A teenage girl stands on her front porch with her eyes squeezed shut as the California redwoods takes on a life of its own. Once an enchanted playground for her and her elder sister, the trees uproot themselves and tear at the green pastures below as the ground beneath rumbles and tries to escape the fiery sky and clouds above. Already in these first images, Josephine Decker’s signature visual style invites us into the personal and beautiful inner workings of a creative mind besieged by grief.
Lennie (the outstanding Grace Kaufman) is a 17-year-old book worm and band-geek whose happy existence is forever shattered as her elder sister Bailey tragically dies of a sudden arrhythmia. Where once there was adventure with her sister just a skip ahead, instead sits a pile of her clothes in which to cocoon herself away from the world and a voicemail message to replay ad nauseam - her new temporary companion.
Her grief also takes hold in her inability to play her clarinet and her willingness to forfeit the first-chair in the school orchestra in fear that the music thats temporarily left her lungs should never return. As her world feels like it’s come to an abrupt stop mid-rotation, the world outside continues on. It’s a bittersweet realisation that is brought to our attention in the early stages of the grieving process, presented in enlightened and uplifting fashion, giving up not a single beat in which to dwell on the sorrow.
Balanced by the creative mind that empowers her and the whimsical lens through which the film unfolds, Lennie’s vulnerability is offset by her love of literature, classical music and her Dickinson-esque prose written on leaves and loose scraps of paper that are left to dance in the breeze. Her intense and confusing emotions are met with care and warmth by Uncle Big (Jason Segel) - a stoner with the inability to reincarnate dead insects, no mater how hard he tries - and her Gram (Cherry Jones).
Gram unwittingly complicates things further by encouraging Lennie to spend more time with her late sister’s grieving boyfriend, Toby (Pico Alexander), with slight animosity quickly turning into affection and ensuing guilt. This is soon replaced by the first stages of courtship with Joe (Pico Alexander), a mesmerising musical prodigy whose friendly encouragement quickly turns to mutual infatuation.
As the love story between Lennie and Joe takes shape, so does the change in Lennie’s emotions, with the return of saturated hues replacing sad, subdued tones paired with happy dream-like sequences. The two show-stealers include a delightful Madeline Madeline-esque flower bed scene harking back to Josephine Decker’s love of stage and another wonderful scene where both young loves float above a bustling pier as Lennie regains the music within. Both are exquisitely captured and scored by Ava Berkofsky and Caroline Shaw and are the cherry on top of a technically brilliant film full of cutesy gestures, gliding pans and genuine charm.
That charm reflects Jandy Nelson’s original vision and triumphant debut screenplay. Using the opportunity to change some minor details from her 2010 YA novel, her screen adaptation further broadens the field of view beyond the interiority through which Lennie’s first loss and first love is shared. Heavy in first person narrative, Nelson’s script allows the film to fully consume its audience. It is not until a pivotal scene between Kauffman and Jones that we’re made fully aware just how far off the beaten track Lennie’s emotions had taken us, at which point the film’s strongest message is revealed.
The Sky Is Everywhere is an effervescent coming-of-age story that’s as beautiful and honest as its subject matter is complex. A film about grief and the human condition that floods its audience with hope for life beyond loss.
'The Sky Is Everywhere' makes its global streaming premiere on Apple TV+ and in select theatres Friday, February 11th.