If you met someone and really clicked with them, connecting in that “so much in common” “soul mate” level, would you be able to reconnect with them if their appearance changed?
Would appearance matter? And here’s the toughest test of all, would what they looked like matter if you’re still a callow, shallow, appearance-is-everything teenager?
That’s the question underpinning “Every Day,” an airy fairy female romantic fantasy about meeting Mr. Right in high school — and re-meeting him. And her. He or she shows up in a different body every day, forcing you to rediscover that connection wrapped in hunky guys, portly guys, butch girls and cheerleaders, Hispanic kids, the home schooled and the Born Again.
It’s a dopey premise that this film, from the director of the romantic weeper “The Vow” (based on David Levithan’s novel), hangs on. But if you don’t buy in, you’ll miss out on one of the more intriguing and honest — if idealized — portraits of high school that the movies have served up of late.
Built on a string of performers who have to play “A,” the classmate/peer the clingy Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) falls for, by degrees, Michael Sucsy’s film waxes and wanes in a romantic sense as some actors/characters are far more compelling than others, and finishes meekly.
And its insistence that this boy who wakes up every day in a fresh body, with only an iPhone and Siri to help him keep his routine in order, typically wakes up in a middle to upper middle class kid’s life and a generally pretty or handsome one, is grating.
But there are big themes to play with, meaty subtexts to chew on — highest among those? Tolerance. That’s closely followed by “Never judge a book by its cover.”
It’s just wise enough, like “Before I Fall,” about a shallow high school girl who dies every night in a car crash until she learns to appreciate and cherish life, loved ones who need her and classmates who could use her moral support, to hold interest.
Rhiannon is the sort of girl who’s a lot more invested in her relationship with Justin (Justice Smith of “Paper Towns”) than the self-absorbed jock is. He’s not callous. It’s just that he’s got his boys and he likes to smoke and play beer pong with them. He’ll squeeze her in when he’s in the mood for “alone time.”
Until that one day when he’s different. He blows off school and practice and they head into the city (Baltimore, never prettier on film) for their most romantic date ever — inexplicably discovering their shared love of “This is the Day (Your Life Will Surely Change)” by 1980s Brit band The The by singing along to it.
The next morning, he has no memory of it. None.
Then, when Justin ditches her at a party, formerly fundamentalist Nathan (Lucas Jade Zumann) gets her on the dance floor, lures out her deepest, darkest confessions and abruptly disappears. The only way she knows who he was is when he turns up in the news, claiming “The Devil” possessed him the night before and left him stranded on the road, with no idea how he got there.
Text messages from the “real” date start Rhiannon’s learning curve. She meets a cheerleader, an overweight inner city guy, a blue-browed transgender teen (Ian Alexander), all claiming they’re who she spent the previous day with, and she starts to buy in.
But how on Earth can this love affair flower and endure? The logistics alone would eat up half of every day. And not every body that “A,” as her new love calls himself, wakes up in owns an iPhone.
Best not to sweat that too much, as Sucsy’s film immerses us in a lived-in world where adults (Maria Bello plays Rhiannon’s mom) casually swear in front of their kids, where the slang is up to the minute and the kids have a normal cross section of body types (if no acne). That lived-in texture includes Debby Ryan, playing older sister Jolene (Mom had a thing for song-title first names), a foul-mouthed nose-ringed bad girl who barely tolerates her kid sister as she distractedly (dangerously so) drives them to school every morning.
The film hangs on young Ms. Rice’s performance, and while the “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Beguiled” starlet is a pretty, dainty thing, she doesn’t deliver the heartbreak and longing you need for this character to make this romance work.
Big heart-tugging moments — “A” finding himself in a suicidal teen’s body, testing his “Never mess up their lives” credo — fail to pay off. That’s on Sucsy.
Still, the idea that it takes an old soul to truly figure out your teen years — observing others, living in their skin (literally), broadening your perspective and your mind — resonates. “A” has a simple response to Rhiannon’s brittle home life. Her father had a breakdown, and Rhiannon’s new beau gives her a broader, forgiving and world-wise take on that.
“Sometimes, you just need a break.”
Yeah. Sometimes you do. And observations like that occur with just enough frequency in this somewhat strained romantic fantasy to suggest it will connect with some folks in some ways at some moments, which is the very definition of a “cult film.”
Which this could very well be. Some day.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic content, language, teen drinking, and suggestive material
Cast: Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Lucas Jade Zumann, Maria Bello, Jacob Batalon and Debby Ryan
Credits:Directed by Michael Sucsy, script by Jesse Andrews, based on the David Levithan novel. An Orion release.
Running time: 1:37