DIRECTED BY: Brett Haley
STARRING: Auli’i Cravalho, Justina Machado, Fred Armisen, Carol Burnett, Judy Reyes, Taylor Richardson, Rhenzy Feliz, Gerald Isaac Waters, Anthony Jacques and C.S Lee
Amber Appleton remains an optimist even when her personal life is far less stable than it appears on the surface. A musically gifted high school student with aspirations to attend Carnegie Mellon, Amber balances work, life, and some tough life secrets with a smile. But when new obstacles present themselves that threaten her dreams, Amber must learn to lean on the strength of her chosen family to move forward.
All Together Now is a film adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel Sorta Like A Rockstar, which he co-adapts alongside Marc Basch and director Brett Haley. The film focuses on Amber Appleton, a musically talented High School student in Portland who helps everyone out at school, who also works at a doughnut shop and volunteers at a local care home. However, Amber is hiding her struggles from her closest friends and loved ones as that she and her alcoholic mother, Becky, are currently homeless and sleeping on the school bus that Becky drives for work.
All Together Now, for the first-half at least, plays like your typical quirky teen drama of how Amber’s drive and when she receives an offer to audition for the prestigious Carnegie Mellon, a music college in Pittsburgh, you feel like this story will follow the same beats of what you’d expect in this genre….then that tone drastically shifts at the midway point of the films and becomes more poignant in overcoming tragedy. I’ve only seen one Brett Haley previously before this (Hearts Beat Loud) and he definitely has a knack for crafting really humane stories with likeable characters, just framing the scenes right and letting the actors and the material connect. There’s some lovely use of lighting in the cinematography work by Rob Given, with a rather understated score by Keegan DeWitt. The majority of the film relies heavily on the performance by Auli’i Cravalho as Amber Appleton and she’s great in the role, bringing nuance to the part of Amber, whose smile and optimism would brighten the dark room, but underneath that smile is someone whose constantly managing her life and trying to shield the truth about her plight. She’s supported by a talented ensemble, including Justina Machado as Amber’s mother Becky, Fred Armisen as Amber’s school teacher Mr. Franks, Carol Burnett as the wise Joan that Amber knows at the care home, Anthony Jacques as Amber’s friend Becky and Rhenzy Feliz as Amber’s friend Ty.
While Brett Haley brings a gentle touch in the way he brings the story to life and the film has the right ingredients going for it, the story itself however does feel like it piles too much drama on and particularly in its one hour and thirty-two minute runtime, there’s certain things that happen that feel like we’re not given enough time to digest it before the next bad/awful thing happens to the point that when the last piece of tragedy falls upon Amber, it does borderline on misery for misery sake and will probably be parodied a few times by the end of the year. Since the majority of the film focuses entirely on Cravalho’s Amber, there’s a number of characters that fall by the wayside due to the films runtime, particularly two of her friends in her friends circle played by Gerald Isaac Walters and Taylor Richardson. As for the films final act, I understand what they were trying to go for in theory, but the execution of the climax did feel unearned and didn’t have the emotional connection I was looking for.
Brett Haley brings a gentle and sombre touch in this adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel, but while it does have heart going for it, the film just fell flat for me towards the end. Auli’i Cravalho delivers a memorable, layered performance as the lead, supported by a talented ensemble. Unfortunately just didn’t impact me the way I wanted it to.