Long before Robert Pattinson became Edward Cullen, fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga could describe the shimmering vampire who stole Bella Swan's heart. Edward has eyes that are "darker than butterscotch" and an "absurdly handsome" face, framed by "hair [that looks] like he's just finished shooting a commercial for hair gel." Edward is just one of many love interests from literature who are, if not reduced to their physical appearance, undeniably tethered to it: Bella swoons over Edward's looks just as often as she does his proclamations of adoration, and many readers could probably say the same of the image of Edward they have conjured up.
One could wonder if it's possible for the physical part of attraction to be sliced out of a film centered around a YA romance. Would it be missed? Would the connection between the characters feel as deep? And what would that even look like?
Enter Every Day, a film that bucks the conventions of YA romance while also posing thought-provoking questions about the way in which we use our physical body (and the bodies of those around us) to provide an identity.
Based on the 2012 novel by David Levithan, a name behind YA novels like Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (co-written with Rachel Cohn) and Will Grayson (penned alongside The Fault In Ours Stars author John Green), Every Day tells the story of "A" — a soul who wakes up in a different person's body every 24 hours. For their entire life, A has lived as whoever they have assumed the physical body of — never making waves or major life changes, but quietly observing what it means to be that person. This works well enough for A, until they meet Rhiannon (Angourie Rice), a teenage girl whom A inadvertently goes on a date with in the body of her less-than-present boyfriend Justin (Justice Smith).
A and Rhiannon fall in love in the traditional YA romance ways: sharing secrets, kissing in the rain, and sneaking out to see one another sans parental permission. The only difference here is that, every day, A embodies someone brand-new.
"I keep quoting one of the most influential statements, which also applies to the movie. Author Colleen Black was on a panel I was on, and she said, 'The most romantic thing you can say to someone is not I love you, but I see you.' The connection we make is not just from affection, but someone knowing who you are and feeling comfortable letting the other person know who you are. That was the guiding principle of Every Day," Levithan explained of Rhiannon and A's relationship on a recent phone call. "I hope that is conveyed in the movie, and it alters the somewhat cliche narrative of the meet-cute, and the attraction, and falling in love. It is much more complicated here, because A has to earn Rhiannon's love, not by what A looks like, but by who A is."
A lesser film would make A's struggle a mere obstacle in a grand romance. Instead, it's an exploration of what our bodies really are to us — and how much weight they should hold.
"I think Every Day is about acceptance," star Rice told Refinery29 on the phone. "[The film] explores the idea of what happens if someone's identity doesn't have any other 'thing' attached to it... the idea of not having a gender or sexual orientation or race or class. How does someone find themselves without all of that?"
Actress Debby Ryan, who portrays Rhiannon's sister Jolene, added:
"A, waking up in a different body every day of their life, has to find out who they are with their [physical body] aside. Teenagers don't experience that. No one gets the opportunity to experience that."
Boy, girl, trans, cisgender, Black, white, fat, thin — for most of the film, A doesn't hold onto any label for more than a day, nor do they identify as any particular gender or sexual orientation. A is simply A, in love with Rhiannon, and capable of seeing her and everyone around them for what's in their head and heart rather than what's in the mirror.
There's no doubt that the concept of A's body-hopping is a mind-boggling one. But it's also a surprisingly smart device that could, quite possibly, encourage empathy for those who seem to fall outside of traditional conventions of gender and sexuality. The film seems to know this, too: At one point in Every Day, A wakes up in the body of a trans student (The OA star Ian Alexander). After politely reminding Rhiannon of the boy's preferred pronouns, A remarks that, sometimes, what's in someone's head doesn't always match up with their body. A would know: They have been in many a head and body.
"Sometimes people talk about the transgender movement that we're creating categories," said director Michael Sucsy on a phone call. "We're not creating categories, we’re learning to see beyond the binary categories that we’re used to... we're breaking down the simplicity with which we’re used to seeing things."
A's experience in the body of a trans-identifying person is just one way the concept of Every Day connects explicitly to the real world.
"I think the message is that hopefully you get to define who you are; your body does not get to define who you are. Your interior life and who you are is, again, not subject to the way people see you or based on their preconceived notions of what your body is," Every Day author Levithan said of the book and film's ultimate conceit.
Another thing that separates Every Day from, say, Twilight, is that there is no swoon-inducing male lead in the equation. While certain actors spend more time in A's body (notably, It star Owen Teague, Nicole Law, and Anne With an E's Lucas Jade Zumann, all of whom give excellent performances) there's no single actor as Rice's romantic co-lead. While A and Rhiannon are an onscreen couple, A is portrayed by many actors.
"The first conversation I had with the producers [of the Every Day film] was 'I want you to promise me that the role of A will be played by different [actors], and that it will be an inclusive cast.' They had the perfect answer, which was 'We would not be interested in making this movie if we weren't going to do it that way,'" Levithan said of the book adaptation. "They stayed true to their word, and every person involved after that was true to that word. No disrespect meant, but I was afraid that they would turn it into something like Quantum Leap, where it would be the same actor looking in the mirror [and seeing someone different.]"
Strip everything else away, and you're left with Rhiannon and A's love story. The pair's power, equality, careful communication, and genuine respect for one another should be a breath of fresh air for a world whose last major motion picture romance was Fifty Shades Freed.
"[The characters in Every Day] are finding each other not because of physical attraction or sexuality or some weird power dynamic... It's more about how this world is a really difficult place to navigate, and they need a partner who can help them really navigate it," said Levithan.
Yes, Every Day is a love story. But it's also a love letter to everyone in that it reminds us that we all deserve to be seen for what's underneath our skin, and respected for it.
Every Day hits theaters February 23, 2018.