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Netflix has a growing universe of YA films devoted to adorable love stories like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and The Kissing Booth franchises, or its recent take on the dance movie, Work It. The streaming service's big hits often offer a shot of carefree fun centering on the high school experience. Just a few months after the release of Brett Haley’s adaptation of All The Bright Places, the director now offers another sobering and heartfelt story about being in the shoes of a teen – often held under the pressure of finite time to figure one’s path out in time for graduation.

All Together Now is adapted from the 2011 YA novel Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick (author behind Silver Linings Playbook), and follows hardworking and musically-talented teen Amber (Auli'i Cravalho, the voice behind Moana), who secretly spends her nights on a school bus with her single mother (One Day At A Time’s Justina Machado) in between working multiple jobs and volunteering for her community. When Amber is given a chance to audition across the country at Carnegie Mellon, her dream school, she faces struggles she needs to overcome to grasp the opportunity of a lifetime.

All Together Now may have flaws in the underlying story itself, but a combination of soft-flowing filmmaking and solid performances makes for an endearing watch.

Auli’i Cravalho has much more in her than just being a Disney Princess, and All Together Now shows this off.

This is Auli’i Cravalho’s first leading role in a film aside from her voice role as Disney’s newest princess, Moana, and the 19-year-old singer and actress delivers something special to the screen. It’s effortless to join her side through her joyful demeanor, even despite the simplicity of the script. Her character faces intense grief throughout the film and Cravalho offers a memorable performance that leads one to believe we haven’t seen the last of her. Knowing of her Disney roots going in doesn’t distract at all distract from her role as Amber one bit.

Even as she sings the beautiful centerpiece of the film, the original song “Feels Like Home,” she unfolds a new side of starpower onto the screen. Not only does she disappear as Amber, All Together Now also has the power to give the audience a sense of her character's perspective without hefty dialogue, or backstory.

All Together Now doesn't fully explore its cast or set-up, leaving room for disappointment.

In the footsteps of 2018's Heart Beats Loud and All The Bright Places from earlier this year, Brett Haley’s third offering in a row centering on the emotional journey of a teen girl is about how it makes you feel more than presenting a layered storyline or quippy script. The co-writer and director has a knack for projecting empathy with his work and making small moments feel as tense or striking as every day certainly feels at that age. Haley’s work is intentionally simple and intimate.

After a number of entries of this formula, however, it feels as though it’s time to see Haley expand his talents into the elements of the story often being positioned in the background. The movie features an impressive cast including Carol Burnett and Fred Armisen (well implemented in the film’s marketing), who are welcome in their brief and comforting places in All Together Now, but could perhaps have been given more to do in breaking the film's dark tension. The roles played by supporting teens in the cast and Amber's family backstory are minimal but could have added more personality to the film if given any spotlight time.

There’s a missed opportunity to get the audience invested more into All Together Now by laying it on them just a bit thicker or letting its runtime go on just a bit longer (without getting too deep into spoilers, once you see it all the way through you’ll know exactly what’s being referred to here).

It’s still another beautifully-shot and well-orchestrated YA effort by director Brett Haley.

Another infectious product of Brett Haley’s filmmaking is how effortless he can portray young relationships. There’s often this unwritten checklist in a film centering on a teenage protagonist our brains are hardwired by now to check off during the runtime of a movie like All Together Now, but those rules don't apply here, and Haley challenges the depiction of teen relationships by taking the pressure off. Runaways' actor Rhenzy Feliz doesn't have to say all the right things to be a charming leading man.

All Together Now has a light and gentle touch that works, but inversely misses an opportunity to have a strong effect on the viewer. It's a bittersweet drama that makes for a cozy pick on Netflix to enjoy. It certainly could have done more with its material, but it lives and breathes comfortably enough as it is. All Together Now is a fluttery 92-minutes that aims to leave butterflies tickling in your stomach and a sense of grounded emotional release welcome amongst Netflix’s cluttered YA collection.

6 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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