Coming almost a decade after Twilight broke out at the box office, Every Day is comfortably the best young adult fantasy romance to reach cinemas in recent years. Although it is, broadly speaking, a belated entry into that particular sub-genre, it soars as a sci-fi romance in its own right, with more than a few shades of Quantum Leap and The Time Traveller’s Wife. But it’s most remarkable, for the way that it refuses to spoon-feed anything to the audience along the way.
At 6:30 in the morning, high school student Justin (Justice Smith) wakes up, takes a selfie and asks his iPhone to set alarms at 11pm and then another at 11:50pm. Across town, his girlfriend Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) stresses out about all the text messages she sent him last night. But when they meet at school, Justin is thrilled to see her, and the two decide to skip classes. They have a wonderful day out and go home more in love than ever.
As we learn the following day, Justin isn’t usually such a good boyfriend – not only is he back to his usual neglectful self, but he claims to have no memory of the previous day. So, it falls to a female student to randomly approach Rhiannon and reflect on what a great time they had. The day after that, another youngster seems familiar with her. The story then follows as Rhiannon falls for A, a travelling consciousness who wakes up possessing a different person, every day.
It’s a strong premise, but it’s also the kind of magical realism that could easily have been squandered on a lesser ‘high schooler loves a ghost’ romance. Happily, director Michael Sucsy does better, aided by screenwriter Jesse Andrews making some choice deviations from David Levithan’s novel of the same name, in order to bring the relationship between Rhiannon and A to the forefront.
In narrative terms, that means we get a lot of different actors playing opposite the marvellous Angourie Rice, whose big-hearted performance is a major reason why the film works so well. We see about two weeks’ worth of very different As over the duration of the film, ranging from Smith, to Spider-Man: Homecoming‘s Jacob Batalon, to trans actor Ian Alexander – they’re all the same age and they all live in Maryland, so it’s an extremely localised Quantum Leap, but the central metaphor of coming of age and gender fluidity is handled very well indeed.
Maybe it shouldn’t feel rare that the film doesn’t hold our hand through this. No one’s going to have too much trouble following the visual storytelling, but there’s no awkward narration or clumsy exposition here and it’s really refreshing to see a film that doesn’t talk down to its audience. It’s a solid hour in before someone sits another character down to baldly explain the rules of the ephemeral romance, and we’re all on the same page by then – that scene is there to directly address the slut-shaming that Rhiannon has to put up with from her classmates, given the general assumption of her love life being eclectic over the course of a fortnight.
It’s really smartly done, to where you do start to fear that it’s not really going to stick the landing. Those fears are allayed by the time the credits roll, but there is a bit of lag as the film breaks into its third act, addressing another very serious aspect of teenage life that winds up feeling perfunctory, despite the best intentions. The film could have stood to pay a bit more attention to Rhiannon’s fraught home life, with depressed dad Nick (Michael Cram), exasperated mum Lindsey (Maria Bello), and big sister Jolene (Debby Ryan) fading into the background.
The only real downside is that it definitely generates enough goodwill to go a little further than it does. With Love, Simon currently in cinemas, the film skirts around the issue of bisexuality more than it needs to. Even though it’s not outwardly squeamish about the fluid nature of A’s identity (an exchange in which Rhiannon asks “Do you consider yourself a boy or a girl?” is a real highlight), the film does keep making excuses for her to be elsewhere on days when she’s a girl. Still, the film more than makes up for this with an inevitable but perfectly judged setpiece around the midpoint, and a late montage of what a future for Rhiannon and A would actually look like.
Every Day is a good, almost great sci-fi romance that far exceeds the expectations of this particular kind of film. More than just avoiding the usual pitfalls of young adult romance flicks, it’s a mature and charming treatment of an unusual premise, bolstered by Angourie Rice’s marvellous lead performance, and a love interest played by an entire supporting cast. Without overstating it, it’s just a pleasant surprise all around.
Every Day is in UK cinemas now.