The American coming-of-age drama All Together Now premiered over the weekend, inciting tears, smiles, hope, and maybe even a new faith in humanity, but it could have done so much better with a more flawed protagonist.
The film is based on the novel, ‘Sorta Like a Rockstar’ by Matthew Quick, and begins with Amber Appleton (Auliʻi Cravalho), a teenage high school senior, teaching English to a group of Korean women. After the lesson, they all merrily sing Shirley Ellis’s The Clapping Song. Amber is a near-perfect girl in the eyes of her students and her friends: strong, optimistic, helpful, and talented. However, none of them know her biggest secret, that she is homeless.
For months, she was living with her widowed, alcoholic mother, and Bobby her pet Chihuahua, in a public bus that her mother drove for a living whilst also working multiple other part-time jobs to save money for an apartment. On one eventful day, Amber receives an email inviting her to an audition at Carnegie Mellon University, her dream college. However, her happiness does not last long as she later finds out that her mother lost her jobs, and has no choice but to return to an abusive relationship. A series of tragedies follow, and Amber has to put on a brave face to confront them.
One remarkable point about All Together Now is its level of realism. Amber is not obsessed with romance or pop culture unlike the teens in other Netflix slice-of-life originals such as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Let It Snow. She is dealing with poverty, homelessness, and abusive relationships whilst following her dreams. Amber represents one of the countless girls like this in the world, who will not give up working hard for a better life. The storyline is quite good, and the many tears cried for Amber are compensated with over-the-top sweetness; a style that is slightly out of fashion, but is never boring.
Moana star Cravalho gives a spectacular performance playing Amber, with realistic facial expressions and natural displays of emotion. Cravalho has a bright future for certain, but director Brett Haley’s reliance on her in the film was not a wise choice. With Auliʻi appearing in all the scenes in the film, Haley undermines the talents of Marvel’s Runaways star Rhenzy Feliz, and Scrubs standout Judy Reyes, who should have had their own focus as supporting characters to liven up the story. Additionally, this format makes it difficult to spot the chemistry between the characters.
Another flaw of the director was making the protagonist flawless. She is depicted more like an angel sent from heaven, rather than a normal high school girl. Consequently, the director fails to present the internal and external conflicts of the character, which could have created more suspense and twists in the story.
Having a perfect protagonist does not by any means make a film perfect, but “All Together Now” is still a watchable film given its realistic aspects and freshness.