“It is what’s inside that counts.” “Personality is more important than looks.” “Inner beauty is what really matters.” While these statements are often thrown about, they tend to sound hollow considering the abundance of lived experiences to the contrary.
In his 2012 novel “Every Day,” however, David Levithan asked what it really means to love somebody regardless of appearance. With his story of A, a formless entity who assumes the body of a different 16-year-old every day, Levithan captured teenage hearts far and wide, setting the stage for youths to consider questions of self and what it really means to experience attraction.
Unfortunately, the 2018 movie adaptation has a completely different effect.
Whereas the book relies upon an admittedly tired narrative of teenage angst and romance, Levithan’s premise poses enough questions about identity and love to make the story impactful. Much of this has to do with the insight the reader gains from the first-person perspective of A as they advance in their romance with Rhiannon (Angourie Rice).
Instead of allowing for the direct perspective of A, however, the movie relies upon Rhiannon to narrate. In this manner, the film lacks the poignant, interrogative nature of the book. “Every Day” loses its potential impact by exploring a series of subplots related more Rhiannon’s personal story than that of A.
Granted, the plot itself proves intrinsically difficult to adapt into movie format — the task of asserting A’s character without giving them a continuous physical form is not necessarily straightforward. To its credit, “Every Day” prevents A’s portrayal from feeling disjointed even across the more than 15 actors who play them. Director Michael Sucsy reveals the character of A through a series of minute mannerisms repeated by each actor, such as an examination of their hands upon waking in a new body or a propensity to grin.
Regardless, the character of A fails to serve as a role model for the rejection of categorization — Levithan’s intended purpose for the character. Instead, aspects of A’s being quickly go from abstract to concrete, most notably with respect to gender.
Though Rhiannon shows attraction to A across a plethora of A’s varied forms, the narrative implicitly designates A as male. Yes, Rhiannon and A talk and even kiss while A assumes the forms of girls, but they share the film’s most intimate scenes during A’s time as tall, slim males with broad shoulders — per Rhiannon’s own description earlier in the movie of her “type.”
In this fashion, the cathartic potential of A for viewers who feel stifled by societal constraints fades. A already seems to identify most succinctly with the white boys A inhabits, and thus A appears most tangible as such. A in movie form lacks the complexity required for them to spark broader discussions about identity.
And A is not the only individual in the film who ironically fits into the very character constraints which the work aims to evade. In fact, each of the characters embodies a gross, generalized trope of a high-school character through heavy-handed, exaggerated characteristics. The rooms of the teens, even those allowed to develop throughout the narrative, prove especially telling of their overriding traits.
Rhiannon, popular yet supposedly emotionally profound, boasts a Pinterest-worthy bedroom of bright colors. Justin’s (Justice Smith) room, in an attempt to underscore the already sufficiently emphasized caricature of superficial jock, exhibits a wide variety of sports equipment. When A takes the form of mentally ill teenager, Kelsea (Nicole Law), the setting shifts to decidedly dark and dreary, the house apparently lacking lights altogether.
In providing a range of simplified characters seemingly designed to be “relatable” to young adults, Sucsy seems to exhibit a desire to connect with this specific audience. He and screenwriter Jesse Andrews do so via not-so-subtle insertions of social media platforms throughout the script, deviating from the book to grant A an Instagram account, wherein A tracks their many forms. Such attempts to relate to the film’s target audience ultimately feel awkward and disingenuous, coming across as blatant pandering rather than enticingly relevant.
Sorry, A, but this film is not getting a double-tap.
“Every Day” opens Friday at UA Berkeley 7.