Based on Jandy Nelson’s young adult novel, “The Sky Is Everywhere” is a candy-colored story of a young girl grieving after the death of her charismatic older sister.
Director Josephine Decker (“Shirley”) leans into the fantastical elements of the material, and this results in a poorly structured narrative that always rushes past any moment that could give the film a deeper resonance.
We are told in narration by Lennie (Grace Kaufman from Sundance hit “Resurrection”) just how close she was to her sister Bailey (Havana Rose Liu, “The Chair”), who was rehearsing to play Juliet at school when she suddenly died of a heart malfunction, just like their mother did. We only learn midway through the film that the girls’ mother got pregnant through artificial insemination; it’s also not until then that we learn what relation Jason Segel’s character Big has to the sisters. Such pointlessly withheld information is just one of the problems here.
The emotional crux of “The Sky Is Everywhere” is the supposedly profound relationship between the sisters, so why is it that we barely ever see them together? Why does Decker sprint through any scenes with Bailey in them? Lennie keeps telling us in narration and dialogue just how devastated she is and how much Bailey meant to her, but we are never shown why at any point in the movie, which often feels afraid of real emotion of any kind.
We briefly see Bailey do a dance routine with others for the camera, and Segel tries to get laughs every now and then (and fails) — it often seems as if the film can’t pick a genre or tone. References to books and music get piled on: Lennie is obsessed with Emily Brontë’s novel “Wuthering Heights” and continually reads it while keeping Bailey’s clothes and belongings all around her, and this rightly begins to irritate her grandmother (Cherry Jones).
Liu bears a marked resemblance to Merle Oberon, the beauteous star of the 1939 Hollywood version of “Wuthering Heights,” yet such connections are ignored, just as Bailey herself is ignored, even though the whole film is supposedly about her absence and how it affects the people she left behind. At Bailey’s funeral, we hear only the voice of Jones’ Gram at first, and then we see her crying “Bravo!” for her lost granddaughter, and this might have been touching and grounding if only we were allowed to see more of Jones in this scene so that it could really land; instead, it is glanced at and rushed through.
The most serious problem in “The Sky Is Everywhere” is that Nelson’s screenplay has Lennie getting upset with people and generally freaking out in almost every scene, and this becomes irritating and monotonous because she is the central figure in the movie. These scenes are played at the same forced pitch throughout, when different moods and at least an occasional pretense at realism — even just a brief touch of a calmer reality — might make this story come to life.
Lennie has to choose between two potential boyfriends: Toby (Pico Alexander, “Dickinson”), a sullen guy who had dated Bailey, and the too-good-to-be-true Joe Fontaine (Jacques Colimon, Netflix’s “The Society”), a musician who shares a love of Bach with Lennie. At one point, Joe and Lennie fly through the air as they play music together; there are far too many twee visual set pieces like that here. Joe urges Lennie to literally take down her hair to loosen up, a zombie visual cliché that never seems to die.
As Lennie keeps yelling at all the people around her, at length, the reason for her behavior has disappeared from the film. Did Lennie love Bailey so much that she actually hated her? Did she feel dominated out of existence by her? What was Bailey like, and what was their relationship like? We keep hearing about Bailey whenever Lennie freaks out at the people in her life, but Bailey is never allowed to come alive as a character.
And without that necessary dramatic element, “The Sky Is Everywhere” starts to feel like a collection of notions for a story about grief that are never believable and never cohere.
“The Sky Is Everywhere” opens Friday in U.S. theaters and on Apple TV+.