Written and directed by Brett Haley and co-written with Marc Basch and Matthew Quick, author of the book Sorta Like a Rock Star which it was adapted from, as well as Silver Linings Playbook, an optimistic high schooler with musical aspirations must learn to accept help from her friends to overcome her personal hardships and fulfil her dreams. Starring: Auli’i Cravalho, Rhenzy Feliz, Justina Machado, Judy Reyes, Anthony Jacques, Gerald Isaac Waters, Taylor Richardson, Fred Armisen, Carol Burnett and C.S. Lee.
It can be incredibly easy to dismiss films like these, they’re aimed at young audiences, have a very sentimental story and tend to have too much of a rosy outlook on life but give this one a chance and you’ll realise everything isn’t quite so peachy. Amber (Cravalho) is basically a mythical creature in the real world, a teenager that’s full of positivity and optimism, who works several jobs while being actively involved with school activities, getting good grades and is homeless, living on a school bus with her mom and best friend, chihuahua Bobby. You would imagine that the combination of dire circumstances and her positive outlook would result in something fake or contrived but Cravalho has so much charm and lovable energy that it works. It helps that the opening scene is extremely well put together, who knew that watching a group of elderly Korean ladies singing The Clapping Song by Shirley Ellis could be so much fun? There’s simply a sincere, loving energy to it that fills your heart with warmth, as far as adorable levels of grandmas, Korea has a corner on the market so it probably couldn’t have started out any stronger.
There’s almost a Julia Roberts-esque quality to Cravalho, in the sense that she has a dazzling smile and irresistible charm to her, she’s overflowing with such enticing energy that she’s a delight to watch. That’s only half of the equation because the other half is her ability to bring sincere emotion to the screen, this film asks a lot more of her than you might expect, throwing her character through the ringer and kicking her while she’s down but she never slips from feeling genuine. Hopefully her performance here will result in a lot more film appearances to come as she has a lot to offer beyond the small screen. There’s a great support cast, Feliz provides the classic love interest role but at the same time gets the chance to present a character that’s kind, generous and caring, with no overriding intent to build a relationship, for a change he focuses on being Amber’s friend. One Day At a Time’s Machado steps into a more grim role here, it’s a relatively brief appearance in the bigger picture but her performance really brings it down to earth and helps to stop the film from feeling saccharine. Scrubs fans will enjoy the addition of Reyes, a confidant and helping hand to Amber who provides a very classically maternal role. No-one could not enjoy the additions of Armisen and Burnett, they both provide very different elements to the story but their humour is a strong asset.
One of the fantastic things about this film is that for a refreshing change, it doesn’t feel like diversity for the sake of it or to add some token ethnicity, the casting is natural and fitting, it’s just a lovely bunch of actors that are all well casted. The story hits some familiar notes but has plenty of its own personality to add, the writing is sweet, emotional, charming and delves a little deeper than your average teen movie. Not only that but choosing to write in that she rides around with her chihuahua hanging out in her backpack and taking it everywhere with her that she can, you’re immediately hitting all the right buttons for sympathy, you can’t go wrong with a beloved pet. It also holds a surprising amount of sadness to it and it doesn’t try to throw it at you out of nowhere, you can feel it coming, the way that it presents itself has that apprehension built in, you just don’t know exactly when it will happen. Perhaps the best aspect of the writing is exploring Amber’s inability to accept help, being in such a vulnerable position, she has the weight of the world on her shoulders and feels like if she lets other people share the burden she’s exposing that she needs it or imposing on others. That quality brings in a very compelling aspect to the story, and gives Amber a genuine sense of self, rather than feeling a cliched amalgamation of a teenage girl.
All Together Now is sweet, charismatic, emotional and surprisingly sincere, Auli’I Cravalho gets a chance to prove she can step into a lead role and she does it flawlessly with a smile and an undeniable charm. It would be easy to dismiss this film but take a chance on it and it will provide you with a little slice of hope and probably a few tears along the way. Heart Beats Loud director Brett Haley pulls off a similar indie darling with sincere intentions and a lot of heart. It’s easy for films to get lost in the constantly growing library of Netflix so add it to the watchlist and check it out the next time you need a little pick me up