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(2020) (Auli'i Cravalho, Justina Machado) (PG)

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Drama: A talented high school senior must contend with various issues while holding down various jobs in hopes of making her dream of attending Carnegie Mellon a reality.

Amber Appleton (AULI'I CRAVALHO) is a high school senior in Portland, Oregon who, due to them being evicted, sleeps at night on the school bus her widowed mom, Becky (JUSTINA MACHADO), drives during the day. Amber's living situation is a secret to everyone, including her close friends Ty (RHENZY FELIZ), siblings Chad (GERALD ISAAC WATERS) and Jordan (TAYLOR RICHARDSON), and Ricky (ANTHONY JACQUES) whose single mom, Donna (JUDY REYES), is something of a second mom to Amber.

With the help of her performing arts teacher Mr. Franks (FRED ARMISEN), Amber hopes to attend Carnegie Mellon and holds down a number of jobs to make money to pursue that dream. That includes working in a seniors home where her upbeat demeanor is a near-constant faux irritant to one of the residents, Joan (CAROL BURNETT), who lives there.

Amber's situation becomes more complicated when her mom decides to start seeing a former, abusive boyfriend and starts drinking again, with neither development sitting well with the teen. A later tragedy then threatens to derail everything the teen has dreamed of, and she must learn to let others help her get through her tough situation.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

While many people view cats as aloof and independent, all of the ones I've had the pleasure of sharing my life with have been friendly and sociable and generally wanted to hang around me, usually on my lap. But if they felt under the weather or ended up slightly injured, their primal survival instincts kicked in and they'd want to be left alone.

I'm sort of the same way. When I'm feeling ill or have some sort of injury, I generally want no one around. The same holds true when I'm dealing with something emotional or psychological. I don't know if that's similar remnant survival instincts in the reptilian part of the brain, but being that way I kind of felt like a kindred spirit of sorts with the protagonist in the Netflix drama "All Together Now."

She's Amber Appleton (a winning Auli?i Cravalho) who we first meet teaching a small group of older Asian women the classic 1965 Shirley Ellis ditty "The Clapping Song." Amber seems like a well-adjusted, giving, and happy teen, but she's hiding a secret from everyone she knows. And that is that she sleeps overnight on the school bus that her mom (Justina Machado) drives during the day.

With her dad having died when she was 12 and then her mom apparently developing a drinking problem that she seemed to have licked until she started seeing what turned out to be an abusive boyfriend, Amber's now homeless and holds down an array of jobs trying to make enough money to find a place for them and her small dog to live.

Not only does she teach those aforementioned women English, but she also works at a donut shop at night and a senior home on the weekends where she's a playful constant thorn in the side of one of the residents (Carol Burnett, playing sour and dour). She's even the head of her school's talent show where she's decided to donate any collected funds to buy a replacement tuba for the marching band.

And she's hoping to be accepted into Carnegie Mellon to pursue her dream of singing, something not lost on her performing arts teacher (Fred Armisen), classmates and close friends (Rhenzy Feliz, Taylor Richardson, Gerald Isaac Waters, and Anthony Jacques ), and one of their single moms (Judy Reyes) who gives Amber a gift of a makeup bag, something the teen politely refuses because she doesn't want any outside help.

That's her underlying modus operandi and something that gets challenged by developments that occur later in the film. And the message -- thankfully not hammered home by either writer/director Brett Haley or co-scribes Marc Basch, Matthew Quick, and Ol Parker who've adapted the novel "Sorta Like a Rockstar" by Matthew Quick -- is that not only must you have hope even in the darkest of times, but you must also accept outside help to make it in the world.

Small scale but full of big heart, "All Together Now" is a winning little drama that effortlessly works from its delightful beginning to its uplifting finale. It rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 25, 2020 / Posted August 28, 2020

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