A week or two ago, I came across this hilarious meme that highlighted how attractive male teens are in pop-culture. It got me thinking about Young Adult (YA) films and how your involvement in Everything, Everything served as a remedy to a casting epidemic that has plagued the genre for years.
YA films, if you don’t already know, are teen-based romances spliced with another genre (comedy, fantasy, action, etc.). These films feature teenagers in the leading roles and are geared towards other teens in their most hormonal of stages; anywhere between the ages of 13-17. The epidemic comes when we’re led to believe that the 6’2”, 220-pound 25-year old with a five-o’clock shadow is considered a ‘teenager’.
Think about it. How many instances have there been where instead of casting actors who actually resemble their proposed age-range, you get full-grown men playing the part of a sophomore? Off the top of my head; Cory Monteith in Glee, Theo James in the Divergent series, Trevor Donovan in the 90210 reboot. And let’s not forget Team Jacob VS. Team Edward from Twilight.
I’m only giving examples of males since they are the most evident in their miscasting. Generally, in YA epics, female actors are chosen based on their ability to look young, so the lines between high schooler and grown-ass adult with an RRSP fund are hard to differentiate.
That’s why Everything, Everything stood out for me. The relationship between Maddy, played by Amandla Stenberg, and Olly, played by Nick Robinson, seemed so natural and authentic because they looked and acted like teenagers. They were reckless in their pursuits and driven by an emotion that is so unknown for someone of their age. In short: their love was believable. At no point did I ever snap out of my movie-going experience and wonder, “Hey, you know what? I think she’s just into him because he can bench press a small car.”
If I compare back to “High School” hunks like Theo James or Taylor Lautner, Nick Robinson seems frail and awkward -- which is perfect. His long, parted hair, his preference for black clothing (clearly a phase), and the way he slightly slouches and drags his feet; everything about Olly screams “teenager in revolt”. His lack of an Adonis-like physique gives the audience a reason to watch him as a boy trying to get the attention of girl. We laugh at his lame gestures and see the nervousness in his eyes when he professes his love.
Same goes for Amandla Stenberg as Maddy. In Everything, Everything, Maddy suffers from a rare immune disease that forces her to stay indoors 24/7. When she finally meets Olly face-to-face, her bashful yet determined confidence to take control of her own life results in an awkward and charming relationship that has to be experienced.
Because that’s what relationships are like in high school, right? They’re experimentations. They’re embarrassing moments, like when Olly sees Maddy in a swimsuit, only to quickly turn away because he doesn’t want to seem like a creep. They’re derived from varying self-esteems. And most importantly, they’re full of teachable moments and life lessons.
I understand it may sound bitter of me to chastise the legitimacy of teen love just because one partner isn’t as awkward or underdeveloped as the other. I know this is a reality for many people. My issue is with pop-culture’s constant unbelievable portrayals. It’s the casting decisions that alter mindsets of young men and women everywhere.
Casting attractive ‘teens’ and having them fall in love is the basis for Young Adult genre films and a major factor in their box office success, I get that. All I’m saying is every now and then, let’s take a page out of Everything, Everything and add some authenticity.