From an aesthetic standpoint, The Sky is Everywhere is among the most ambitious young adult adaptations of recent memory. With a run-of-the-mill director, this could’ve been just another teen drama. The film benefits from Josephine Decker’s visual eye, however. Decker is primarily known for indie thrillers with a twist, her most prominent work being 2020’s Shirley. Many audiences went into that film expecting a straightforward biopic, but they got something far more psychological and unnerving. The Sky is Everywhere is at its best when Decker lets her imagination run wild. When the film falls back on familiar YA tropes, though, it’s a mixed bag.
Aside from Decker, the best thing that The Sky is Everywhere has going for it is Grace Kaufman’s presence. You might recognize Kaufman from sitcoms like Man with a Plan. You also might recognize the voice of her father, David Kaufman, who regularly voice doubles for Michael J. Fox. She’s given the meatiest role of her career thus far as Lennie Walker, a young woman who suddenly loses her sister. Lennie lives with her grandmother (Cherry Jones) and stoner uncle (Jason Segel), who add some humor to the grim setup. Decker also adds a rainbow of colors, which, at first, I found off-putting given the bleak subject matter. The longer I looked at the various colors, though, the more I realized how muted they were. This suits the protagonist, whose colorful personality has been rained upon.
The lovable Lennie is unable to function without her sister. She can’t play the clarinet anymore, losing her status as first chair and potentially her shot at college. There are only two people who Lennie can confide in. A romance blossoms between Lennie and Joe (Jacques Colimon), a fellow student who shares her passion for music. In the film’s most memorable scene, the couple listens to a song in a garden. The music practically transports the two to another realm with the garden coming to life. Decker’s admiration for films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is on full display, blending romance with whimsy.
Lennie also develops a romantic attraction to Toby (Pico Alexander), her late sister’s grieving boyfriend. This is where the film struggles to find its footing. Whether you find Lennie’s attraction to Toby identifiable or just plain wrong, there’s a fascinating dynamic that could’ve been explored further. Their relationship raises so many ethical questions that it could’ve been the focus of the movie. Instead, Toby simply becomes the other guy in a standard love triangle. When Lennie’s love interests inevitably clash, The Sky is Everywhere turns into every other romantic drama we’ve seen before.
Jandy Nelson adapted the screenplay from her 2010 novel. As someone who hasn’t read the book, I can’t say if fans will be satisfied. As an outsider, though, I think the performances and direction are stronger than the writing. That said, Kaufman delivers a star-making turn. Decker’s direction is worthy of comparison to Charlie Kaufman, finding an unlikely middle ground between melancholy and inventive. The Sky is Everywhere may be flawed, but it has me excited to see what Decker and Kaufman do next. For now, this is a solid showcase for their talents.