Warning: Spoilers from All Together Now are ahead.
Whie Netflix’s newest original movie, All Together Now starring Auli’i Cravalho may seem like it's ripped from a heart-wrenching true story, it's actually based on a fictional book. But you'd be forgiven for wondering if there's a real Amber Appleton (Cravalho) in the world because, in a way, there are many Ambers out there: The book's author drew from the harsh reality of homelessness in the U.S., something that affects thousands of Americans.
All Together Now is based on the book Sorta Like A Rockstar written by Matthew Quick — and if his name immediately sounds familiar, that's because he also wrote The Silver Linings Playbook. Sorta Like A Rockstar and All Together Now both follow Amber through the ups and downs of her senior year of high school. There’s a lot more downs than ups for her, even though she insists on always putting on a happy face. In reality, her life is not so rosy. Her father died when she was 12, and her mother, Becky (Justina Machado) hasn’t been able to support them since. Now they’re homeless and living on a bus — the same bus that Becky drives for work every day.
Quick was never homeless, he did face some of the more interpersonal challenges we see Amber face.
“I always appeared to fit in, but there was a lot going on inside that I didn't share — most of which had me spending too much time alone as a teenager,” Quick told Good Reads. “For much of my life, I tried to hide that truth and pretended to be part of the herd. But my favorite stories were always about underdogs or people who have a harder time existing within the ‘normal’ confines of society. Reading those stories made me feel less alone. Writing them makes me feel less alone, too.”
The biggest hurdle Amber faces in life is the fact that she and her mother are homeless, something that Cravalho is proud to include in the story. “Something I also really connected with is the shame that Amber feels of her background, of not having much money,” she told Refinery29 in a recent interview. “That’s something I hope people also notice. We shouldn’t have to feel shame for our upbringing. The challenges that we face don’t hold us back from our accomplishments.”
It might seem uncommon but in truth, homelessness continues to be a prominent reality many are facing in the United States. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “Seventeen out of every 10,000 people in the United States were experiencing homelessness on a single night in January 2019,” and in addition to that, roughly 35,000 unaccompanied youth found themselves without a place to sleep at night last year. After Amber’s mom passes away, she finds herself in that latter group, but thankfully she has a place to go.
The movie ends with Amber receiving enough money to pay for the surgery for her beloved dog, and then some. It turns out she has a wealthy benefactor in her corner and seemingly receives enough money to go to college — should she get into Carnegie Mellon.
It’s certainly an uplifting end to Amber’s story, but not one you’re likely to come across in real life as homelessness continues to be an issue for college students. A survey in 2018 by The Hope Center for College, Community and Justice “found that homelessness affected 18% of respondents attending two-year colleges, and 14% of those attending four-year institutions,” according to USA Today. While Amber’s story isn’t based on one specific true story, it’s certainty based on the real struggles faced by thousands of American every day.