Set aside the contrivances and creepy plot twists, and Michael Suscy’s “Every Day” offers up a timely message about acceptance and the nature of love that’s especially welcome at the moment. Unfortunately, the movie falls short of doing justice to that idea. Based on David Levithan’s bestselling YA novel of the same name, the high-concept teen romance hinges on one hell of a narrative conceit: every day, a gender-less and body-less spirit named “A” wakes up in the body of a different person.
The rules of such an arrangement grow increasingly complicated as the film winds on – A only ever ends up in the body of someone their same assumed age (when the film opens, around 16), the people A possesses all tend to live in the same general geographical area, A can access certain key memories to better facilitate getting through the day with few hiccups, the possession only lasts for 24 hours, there are never any repeats, and so on and so forth – but the film’s central conflict is at least an understandable one: A falls in love with someone.
The general shape of A’s situation is ably delivered in the opening moments of Sucsy’s film, as A wakes up in the body of Justin (Justice Smith), a hip kid teen who doesn’t seem to care too much about the world at large, including his doting girlfriend Rhiannon (Angourie Rice). Over the course of a single day, A falls head over heels in love with Rhiannon, a deceptively deep teenager who is overwhelmed by her boyfriend’s suddenly caring nature (read: Justin is usually a huge jerk, but when possessed by A, he’s charming and sweet). A is also overwhelmed by their feelings, and soon finds themselves driven to seek out Rhiannon every single day, all in the hopes that she might fall for the strange spirit, one who appears in the guise of every imaginable kind of person: all genders, all races, all social backgrounds.
Love knows no boundaries, and “Every Day” posits that it shouldn’t be expected to.
A has gotten through their very strange life by sticking to a few hard-and-fast rules, the most important of which is to not muck up the lives of any host bodies during their one-day foray into their individual existence. It’s a point that’s driven home early and often, and from both A and Rhiannon’s perspective. When she finally gets clued in to the particulars of A’s life, Rhiannon balks at the realization that A – as Justin – violated her trust both physically and emotionally, kissing her (as Justin) and letting her reveal certain long-held secrets (again, as her boyfriend). It’s illustrative of why A’s rules are so important and why their instinct to adopt them was so smart, which is why it’s so jarring when “Every Day” begins breaking that same rule, early and often, and always in service to wholly selfish ends.
While A struggles to upend their own rules in service to saving one of their host bodies, one who is not just clearly suicidal, but one who has literally calendared the next day as the day she will attempt the act, and Rhiannon still smarts over the implications of their first day together, “Every Day” constantly violates its own code of conduct. Rhiannon and A frequently get physical – again, when A is in a host’s body – and while the film never explicitly shows the pair engaging in sexual activity, they are heavily implied. Remember how upset Rhiannon was over a single kiss? She doesn’t, at least when it gets in the way of her own pleasure.
Even more uncomfortable is the film’s awkward inability to overcome all that weirdness by at least bolstering the best part of the story’s message. Despite its progressive ideas about relationships and love, “Every Day” is loath to show Rhiannon engaging in physical affection with nearly anyone other than attractive, cisgendered males. A trans host body shows up one day, but they just talk. Later, A embodies a fellow female schoolmate, and the pair do kiss – but only after permission is explicitly given. That never happens with the boys. “Every Day” wants to spread a message of inclusion and acceptance, but its choices constantly undermine that theme. It’s a good-hearted idea, terribly executed on screen.
It doesn’t help that the film is riddled with strange plot movements that initially seem hugely important, before being tossed aside and nearly forgotten. One gets the sense that a number of subplots were left on the cutting room floor in service to putting together a 97-minute feature that still can’t help but drag in its middle section.
Early in the film, “20th Century Women” standout Lucas Jade Zumann appears as one of A’s many surrogates, a hardcore Christian whose experience being taken over by the spirit signals a major change in the way A does things – he’s the first host A doesn’t get safely back into bed before the midnight turnover – an experience that inspires Nathan to suggest that he was actually temporarily possessed by the Devil.
Fans of the book will expect Nathan’s storyline to play out further, as it does in Levithan’s novel, but it never goes past a brief, weird interaction with Rhiannon and some suspicious posts on social media. Later, Rhiannon’s beloved (and trusted) sister Jolene (Debby Ryan, doing a lot with a little) appears to sell her out to a friend, a weird bit of slut-shaming and secret-breaking that should carry far more weight than it does.
The narrative flow is further tripped up by attempts to modernize Levithan’s novel. In the 2012 book, A crafts a makeshift diary through a secret email account, which they later use to communicate with Rhiannon. In Suscy’s film, email has been replaced with Instagram and Reddit, though repeated shots of Rhiannon’s phone screen still make their communications look entirely text message-based. It’s a small quibble, but when Rhiannon texts A to ask them what cell phone number to use that day, it’s yet another example of a shoddy element that only further takes the audience out of an already big concept.
At least Rice is very appealing in the role, good enough to ground the film when it threatens to spin out, as are the talented young actors and actresses who portray A (especially “Spider-Man: Homecoming” standout Jacob Batalon, tasked with explaining away the minutiae of A’s life, and Owen Teague, who is possessed by A during a key period in their relationship with Rhiannon). The love story at the heart of “Every Day” is a deep one, an inventive allegory that packs a timely wallop, but it’s one hopelessly hampered by its resistance to engaging in the deeper issues it stirs up. Love has no boundaries, but “Every Day” sure could use some of its own.
“Every Day” will be in theaters on Friday, February 23.