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ALL TOGETHER NOW. AULI’I CRAVALHO as AMBER. Cr. ALLYSON RIGGS/NETFLIX ©2020

A-Ron’s New Movie Reviews: “All Together Now” (2020)

•Now Available To Stream On Netflix•

Netflix’s newest film “All Together Now”, comes from indie director Brett Halsey and stars local Hawaiian actress Auli’i Cravalho. The Oahu actress who made her breakthrough as the voice of Disney’s “Moana”, now gets her shot at her first live action leading role. Cravalho is charming and builds a character that feels lived in and real. But yet she allows us to see the pools of sadness behind her eyes. She makes Hawai’i proud and you really couldn’t ask for more from her in her first leading role. Although “All Together Now” feels more fitting for Disney+, it still manages to fit neatly inside Netflix’s growing library of young adult dramedies. Haley’s film may end with all the loose ends tied up into a happy ending, but its heart is pure. It packs on the drama pretty thick, layering on traumas and complications. But Haley inserts many touches that feel achingly real not just used for cinematic effect. Haley’s tender approach may not sting many like it did me, but it does leave a mark. Give this one a look and you’ll witness two things…Why Haley is quickly becoming a filmmaker you need to pay attention to and why Auli’i Carvalho is Hollywood’s next “It Girl”. 

Brett Haley co-writer and director of 2018’s superb indie gem “Hearts Beat Loud” returns with “All Together Now”. An original Netflix film starring 19 year old local Hawaiian actress Auli’i Cravalho who gets her shot at her first live action leading role. The Oahu actress made her breakthrough as the voice of Moana in Disney’s gargantuan box office animated winner of the same name. Director Brett Haley is a pro at directing low key indie charmers and is always interested in telling stories about good-hearted people persevering in the face of tough circumstances. 

“All Together Now” offers that usual Haley heartstring-tugging with some help from that predictable Netflix touch. Although “All Together Now” feels more fitting for Disney+, it still manages to fit neatly inside Netflix’s growing library of YA (young adult) dramedies. It’s that genre of movie where all the action and events builds up to the school’s big variety show, one of the hallmarks featured within movies that appear regularly on the streaming service. Haley also delivers the timely message that taking care of each other should never go out of fashion.

Amber Appleton is a high school senior (Auli’i Cravalho) who isn’t just a do-gooder, she’s a do-everythinger. She’s got a lot going on. In fact she just may have one of the most complex lives of any teenager. She teaches English as a second language to a pack of older Korean immigrants, she has a job at an old folks’ home where she keeps a delightfully irritable Carol Burnett (yep that Carol Burnett) company, she also has a job at a local donut shop (managed by a guy she just tutored through his GED) and she appears to be her high school’s most reliable crusader for whatever issues arises around her school (from supporting the drama club to lobbying to make sure the marching band gets a new tuba). Wait we’re not done yet as Amber adopts a tiny dog and always puts his needs ahead of her own. She even sweetly makes fried egg sandwiches for her friends for breakfast (boy egg sandwiches are really making the impact this year after “Birds Of Prey”). 

Despite everything she’s always got time for her slightly different best friend Ricky (Anthony Jacques), and the rest of her clique seems to view her as the glue that holds them all together. Because they have locked in Auli’i as their star and because she has proven with “Moana” that she can sing. Of course Amber also has that ability as a talented singer. Because Amber wants to attend her fathers alma mater at Carnegie Mellon University, she is hung up on perfecting that song her late father wrote. But because it’s that kind of movie and as predictable as it is (and boy is it predictable!). There will be impediments to that dream, which director Brett Haley and Cravalho deliver with a careful mix of grace. 

One of the films many emotional stakes is where we find Amber and her mom Becky (played by “One Day at a Time” star Justina Machado) to be homeless and living in a school bus parked on the school’s property. Amber appears to have a cheery outlook, but hides some deep pain and shame surrounding those circumstances and some pain from her past.

There is a “Good Will Hunting” vibe to the film, of a gifted young person sliding toward obscurity who is helped by the intervention of friends and colleagues. Haley’s film may end with all the loose ends tied up into a happy ending, but its heart is pure. “All Together Now” packs on the drama pretty thick, layering traumas and complications on Amber until, they feel insurmountable. But Haley inserts many touches that feel achingly real not just used for cinematic effect. 

Which causes it to get a little too teary eyed and schmaltzy for some, but a movie hasn’t given me the water works or pulled at my heart strings this much since 2017’s Josh Brolin fire fighter drama “Only The Brave”. Congratulations Brett Haley and Netflix for making me ball like a baby in a way I never expected it to and bringing emotion to what could have been just another tween drama. Haley’s tender approach may not sting many like it did me, but it does leave a mark. 

A lot of credit has to go to Auli’i Cravalho, who if it wasn’t for her all the schmaltz and tears wouldn’t work. Cravalho is charming and builds a character that feels lived in and real. But yet she allows us to see the pools of sadness behind her eyes. Cravalho has that winning mix of personalities and looks between Miranda Cosgrove (“I Carly”, “School Of Rock”) and Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical”, “Sucker Punch”). She makes Hawai’i proud and you really couldn’t ask for more from her in her first leading role in a live-action movie. She’s awesome and completely spectacular. Hollywood needs to come knocking on her door more frequently. 

Haley is great at finding the humanity in all of his characters. Things may happen, plot wise that you expect and it does, but the plot is always somewhat secondary to Haley. He feels that as long as the characters are realistic, their plights relatable and the emotional stakes palpable, what happens in the story will resonate. 

Character studies and indie movies are harder and harder to get made, through Hollywood studios, so going to streaming platforms provides a safe harbor for the kind of cinema Haley and so many others excels at. Audiences still crave this genre of entertainment I know I do. With prime examples being the supernatural teen romance “Every Day” and the teen version of the “Before Trilogy” in “The Sun Is Also A Star”. 

Both films are extremely overlooked and probably would have performed better if they had a plethora of streaming services to choose from like we do today. So it’s a great choice for Haley to have Netflix release “All Together Now”. It’s another flick from Haley that’s not to be missed, no matter what project he’s working on. Give this one a look and you’ll witness two things…Why Haley is quickly becoming a filmmaker you need to pay attention to and why Auli’i Carvalho is Hollywood’s next “It Girl”. 

GRADE: ★★★1/2☆☆ (3 & 1/2 out of 5)

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About Aron Medeiros

Aron Medeiros
Aron Medeiros is the movie critic for Maui Watch. He lives on the beautiful island of Maui and is also a member of the elite Hawaii Film Critics Society and an active cast member of the NerdWatch pod cast. He is a 2003 graduate from King Kekaulike High School. His favorite film of all time is “Back To The Future”. He has worked at Consolidated Kaahumanu Theaters for nearly 13 years as a Sales Associate and making his way up to Assistant Manager. He has loved movies since he was a young boy, where his Grandfather started his love for the movies.

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