The Sky is Everywhere‘s YA origins generate too many cringey twee moments here, but there’s no denying Decker’s visual power to elevate the material.
Her career born out of the closing days of Joe Swanberg’s medium-reorienting mumblecore run, Josephine Decker’s work as a feature film director has flourished in the years since that scene dissipated, shifting on over from the world of micro-budget cinema to that of streaming services rather gracefully. From Cinelicious to Oscilloscope to Hulu and now Apple TV+ (by way of A24), Decker hasn’t compromised much of her voice, and though 2018’s Madeline’s Madeline marked the end of her working relationship with cinematographer Ashley Connor, her newest projects signal a commitment to evolving the visual style introduced in that film and their collaborations prior. This latest, the previously alluded to Apple TV+/A24 production The Sky is Everywhere, certainly keeps to this trajectory, but surprises in its tonal departure from 2020’s Shirley, steering out of that movie’s dour humor and vague psycho-sexual vibes into a shiny post-Scott Pilgrim, pop YA aesthetic.
Certainly not an expected leap, but also not one that Decker is ill-suited for, having previously centered adolescent conflict in Madeline’s Madeline (albeit in rawer form than YA tends to allow for), and touched on similar aesthetic ideas in earlier short work like Me the Terrible (on scale for a much lower budget). Venturing down a path trail-blazed by contemporaries/fellow Swanberg associates Ry Russo-Young (The Sun is Also a Star) and Sophia Takal (Black Christmas), Decker commits wholeheartedly to the rhythms and expectations of the Hollywood teen film with The Sky is Everywhere, though so much so that those with little tolerance for the genre’s hallmark earnestness will likely be able to see anything else. Yet, cloying as much of this can be (and indeed, the dialogue is very much that), Decker doesn’t lose her way in this new terrain, embracing a specific visual language (steered by Laura Zempel’s zippy editing, in turn informed by a playful Caroline Shaw score) that distinguishes it from other recent entries in the YA film canon. And while The Sky is Everywhere likely won’t track as terribly deep to those outside its intended age demo, one can see why Decker was drawn to Jandy Nelson’s screenplay (adapted from her own novel) which centers on Lennie (Grace Kaufman), a Julliard-bound clarinetist spiraling in the wake of her sister’s death, entertaining parallel affairs with a classmate and her deceased sibling’s fiancee. The inherent thorniness of the film’s love triangle and its uncomfortable implications make sense in the context of Decker’s generally pessimistic filmography, and almost provides enough of an acerbic edge to cut through some of the movie’s cringier twee moments and Wes Anderson-style whimsy (provided by the well cast Cherry Jones and Jason Segel as the kooky guardians), but most won’t find it to be enough. Still, there’s no discounting an actually visually inspired cinematic work at this point in history (makes sense that Scorsese has cosigned, thanked in the credits), and Decker continues to impress in this fashion at the very least. That the audience is perhaps not her usual one may mean this one is discounted in the long run, but it’s as committed an endeavor for this filmmaker as anything she’s done thus far.
You can currently stream Josephine Decker’s The Sky is Everywhere on Apple TV+.