On the surface, the YA adaptation All Together Now may seem like something Netflix is releasing in an effort to capture the tween market. Sure, it’s adapted from a YA novel and has an appealing young cast, but the secret weapon here is that it’s made by an old soul in Brett Haley. The filmmaker made his bones directing veteran actors and actresses who were due starring roles, like Sam Elliott and Blythe Danner, before recently moving towards younger skewing casts. Now, this latest effort of his shows how effective material potentially meant for a younger audience can be in the right hands. Haley’s sure nature and talented direction makes this a family friendly but wholly effective work that’s absolutely heartwarming.
The film is a drama, based on the novel Sorta Like a Rock Star by Matthew Quick. Amber Appleton (Auli’i Cravalho) is the kind of teenager every parent would love to have. She’s kind, works hard, and does good in the world. When she’s not in school, she’s either teaching an ESL class that involves singing, working, or volunteering at a home for seniors, with a special bit of attention paid towards the curmudgeonly Joan (Carol Burnett). Amber is also an incredibly talented singer, so much so that the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University is auditioning her. However, she also has a secret. Amber is homeless, living in a school bus with her mother Becky (Justina Machado). It’s closely guarded, as both are too proud to ask for help. Unfortunately, things are about to get harder for both of them, and when help is required, will Amber be able to accept it from her friends? The answer may not be a big surprise, but it’s in seeing how it all comes together that one gets all the feels. Haley directs a screenplay he co-wrote with frequent writing partner Marc Basch (Quick also penned a previous adaptation of his book). Supporting players include Fred Armisen, Rhenzy Feliz, Anthony Jacques, Judy Reyes, Taylor Richardson, Roxanne Stathos, Gerald Isaac Waters, and more. Rob Givens contributes the cinematography, while the score, as well as a wonderful original song, is by Haley’s go to composer, the vastly underrated Keegan DeWitt.
Brett Haley continues a winning streak that really shows to me that he can do no wrong behind the camera. Not only is he a simple yet completely effective visual storyteller, he once again finds the humanity in all of his characters. The script he wrote with writing partner Marc Basch avoids all of the cliches that one might expect here. Things may happen, plot wise, that you expect, but plot is always somewhat secondary to Haley. As long as the characters are realistic, their plights relatable, and the emotional stakes palpable, what happens in the story will resonate. Here, that’s once again the case, no matter your age or living situation.
All Together Now is well acted, with Auli’i Cravalho an expressive and emotive lead, while a supporting player like Carol Burnett sneaks up on you. Moreover, Keegan DeWitt’s original song is a winner. Between the title track from The Hero and his handful of tunes from Hearts Beat Loud, whenever DeWitt and Haley get together, magic ensues. Both of them deserve Academy Award attention, having been snubbed for both of those films, and while it may be hard to get the Academy to notice YA fare, this is worthy of consideration. If Oscar voters listen to the tune, anything is possible.
This Friday, one of the better films of 2020 hits Netflix when All Together Now becomes available to stream. The service is now a bit of a consistent home for Brett Haley (having also put out the great All the Bright Places through them earlier this year, with more to come), and it makes sense. Character studies and mid-budget movies are harder and harder to get made, so going to the streaming giant provides a safe harbor for the kind of cinema he excels at. Audiences still crave this form of entertainment, as well, so it’s a great choice for all parties. In any event, this is another flick from Haley that’s not to be missed. He’s quickly becoming a filmmaker you need to pay attention to, no matter what project he’s working on. Give it a look and you’ll see why.
Be sure to check out All Together Now, streaming on Netflix this weekend!
(Photos courtesy of Netflix)