All Together Now, one of Netflix’s newest original films, is directed by Brett Haley and written by Matthew Quick, author of Silver Linings Playbook. The film is based on Quirk’s second book, Sorta Like a Rock Star. The film follows Amber Appleton (Auli’i Cravalho), a musically gifted high school student as she attempts to remain an optimist despite the personal life struggles that affect both her and her mother (Justina Machado). Amber has various activities to keep her distracted, including work, taking part in a high school drama club, teaching ESL classes, and volunteering at a retirement home. Just as an important opportunity to make her music dreams come true comes her way, a life-changing event puts her dreams in danger.
Even though I haven’t read the book that All Together Now is based on, I can’t help but admire how unique its premise is. The typical high school student harboring a secret life isn’t necessarily something new, but the way it was portrayed in the film was fantastic. So much emotion is put into this premise, especially with the dialogue between Amber and her mother. There’s a scene that shows that even though they’re struggling with personal issues, they have time to read poetry to one another. On top of that, the coming-of-age elements that the film implements makes the premise stand out more. The film starts with Amber on a high note, despite her struggles, but then goes into low moments. It’s different from the more traditional coming-of-age stories but it also adds a more intriguing twist to it.
Having only seen Cravalho in Moana and the pilot episode of Rise, I haven’t kept up with any other project that she’s done. While those works pertain to a more music-themed tone, All Together Now gives Cravalho’s character much more to do. Her character still focuses on music, but she was able to find the right balance for her character’s life outside and inside of school. Having to go from teaching ESL classes through singing to spending long nights on the school bus that she and her mother stay in was captivating. That sort of change in character was incredible and it showed me Amber’s values. Above everything else, I admire the determination that Amber has to help others. There’s something special about someone who helps others while still having to deal with personal issues.
Even with such a unique premise and Cravalho’s portrayal of Amber, the pacing in terms of issues that Amber has to deal with disrupted the flow of All Together Now’s story. After the major dilemma occurs, it seems like the entire world is against Amber. It got to the point where I was doubting as to whether or not I should actually be rooting for her character to succeed. The film was close to reaching the “what else can go wrong” cliche. It’s disappointing since the film never gave me the impression that it would pile everything on Amber. If a main component of the film’s premise was for Amber to rely on others, it got harder to picture people around her. Having one central issue with smaller ones that have either preexisted since the events of the film or ones that grow as the film progresses would have been perfect.
One of the biggest missed opportunities of All Together Now was that the friendship between Amber and Joan (Carol Burnett), a resident at the retirement home, didn’t have a more prominent role. Even though Joan acts very cold towards Amber, it becomes clear that she does care of Amber as the film progresses. I think that their relationship could have been a bigger part of the story. Burnett is such an incredible actress who could have had great scenes with Cravalho. Their characters are the opposite of one another, which would have made for multiple superb moments of dialogue. Yes, the issue of a “white savior” could have come up had their relationship developed more, but I feel as if the film could’ve taken the necessary steps to prevent this.
Overall, All Together Now has a unique premise put a great twist on a coming-of-age story that I wasn’t expecting. Amber was the heart of the movie and Cravalho’s portrayal was memorable. However, the pacing of the issues that Amber must face threw off the flow of the film, which took me out of the whole experience at times. There was also a missed opportunity in not letting Amber and Joan’s friendship develop more. This is a film that I’ll come back to since it managed to blend emotion, life struggles, and a unique premise.
All Together Now is available to stream now, exclusively on Netflix.
All Together Now
All Together Now has a unique premise put a great twist on a coming-of-age story that I wasn’t expecting. Amber was the heart of the movie and Cravalho’s portrayal was memorable. However, the pacing of the issues that Amber must face threw off the flow of the film, which took me out of the whole experience at times.