The best thing about Apple TV+ is the quality baseline. Even the service’s least successful films and shows are immaculately well made: serious filmmakers and top flight artisans. I’ve not read the young adult novel that serves as the inspiration for The Sky Is Everywhere, but based on the film it seems like a lovely rumination on loss undercut by a plot that relies on an unholy alliance of teenage romance tropes and “the nerdy girl finds confidence” artifices. And yet, despite my sharp misgivings about the plot, I think the film is quite successful thanks to one key element: Josephine Decker.
Would that every filmmaker who takes a paycheck job in between “serious” projects treat their craft with this much love and respect. The Sky Is Everywhere tells the story of a young woman, Lennie, grappling with the death of her older sister as she attempts to navigate her application to Julliard and the affections of two romantic suitors, a high school bandmate and the fiancé of her deceased sibling. I struggle to imagine the woman who crafted Shirley and Madeline’s Madeline felt an immense tug to these big, broad characters and relatively simplistic arcs. But, hot damn, she directs the hell out of this thing.
It feels as though Decker asked herself with each scene how she could find a creative visual way to express the broad, universal emotions on the page. An erection during a chaste hug is met with a slide whistle and a cascade of hastily scrawled text messages. The raw emotion of reflecting upon intimacy manifests in a glorious little one take dance scene. A prayer for guidance from above sees a romantic interest bathed in Spielbergian god light while depression manifests as a literal cartoon rain clouds.
The film seems to exist perpetually in the golden hour which gives the story a dreamy indefinite quality. A band practice sees our characters, each more colorfully and quirkily dressed than the next, bathed in light from shimmering multicolored bulbs hung from the ceiling. Our protagonist lives in her grandmother’s deliciously overdesigned woodland enclave, a Miyazaki-esque forest abode surrounded by an apparently endless array of flowers. One beautiful sequence sees the flowers spring to life as our characters vibe to Bach. When it comes time for Disney’s inevitable live action adaptation of Encanto this film’s team of production designers should be a shoe-in for creating Isabela’s flower powers. I’ll admit that I found far more excitement awaiting each new stylistic flourish and flight of imagination than any real resolution from the characters.
Grace Kaufman (Resurrection) is a perfectly cromulent leading lady who evinces sufficient chemistry with both of her suitors. When the “worst of Sundance” young adult fiction quirkiness of the plot threatens to overwhelm the performers, Kaufman manages to find grounding in all the eccentricity around her. Jason Segal (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The End of the Tour) is appealing as our lead’s stoner uncle. The cast standout is the great Cherry Jones (Fox’s 24, The Eyes of Tammy Faye) who spends much of the film suffering just off center over the loss of her granddaughter. Her big emotional final scene serves as the film’s most effective and affectingly human moment.
The Sky Is Everywhere is a showpiece for how great direction can elevate stock storytelling. There’s a near poetic quality to Decker’s work that impressively and creatively brings raw emotion to metaphorical life. I do wonder if this film will serve as the impetus for Decker to get the budget, and creative freedom, to make the visually impactful masterpiece that’s clearly inside her.
The Sky Is Everywhere is on Apple TV+ now.