In All of Us Strangers, Andrew Scott leads an emotionally riveting romantic drama that does a lot with a little. Minimal locations and a tight cast keeps the characters and their conversations as the focus with such a strong emotional core, you’re unlikely to come out with dry eyes.
The story follows a screenwriter’s (Scott) beautiful developing queer relationship with a neighbour (Paul Mescal), which is set between moments of him reconnecting with his deceased parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy), who died when he was a boy.
It’s a surreal tale that makes more sense to feel the story, rather than trying to rationalise it. With him speaking to his parents as they were on the day they died, it offers heartbreaking insights into the parent/child relationship. Removing the age gap, here the main character now being older than his parents, removes the initial power structure of the dynamic and lets them then talk as peers.
Having the chance to fill people in on your life that aren’t around anymore is something everyone’s soul has yearned for, much like going to a gravestone and talking to them as if they were there. It’s a natural part of the grieving process and exploring that through Adam’s (Andrew Scott) eyes is incredibly cathartic. It’s such a specific story, but in that specificity it makes it all the more universal.
Even the meaning of the name All of Us Strangers becomes solemnly apparent. After losing his parents when he was 12 years old and now decades on, his parents have in a way become strangers, which is why it’s so important to remember those we’ve lost and celebrate who they were.
I have been lucky enough to see this twice now, once back at the BFI London Film Festival in October and then again at the opening night gala at the Belfast Film Festival, which I feel to fully appreciate the film, I very much needed the repeat viewing.
A special experience
The first watch was a special experience as I can’t recall another film which I had that much of an emotional response to. Around the cinema afterward you could tell who had been in the screening from the heavy red eyes and sniffles, occasionally you’d catch someone’s gaze from across the room and offer each other a gentle nod of understanding. We were littered in the queue for The Boy and The Heron like emotionally devastated sleeper agents ready to burst into tears at a slight humming of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s 1984 Power of Love.
The second watch was a little more complex. Being more emotionally prepared, I could view the film more ‘objectively’ – or as objective as you can be when discussing art. What surprised me was how quickly the film moved, the runtime only sits at 1hr 45m and like looking out a train window, it zipped by. Without feeling rushed, it felt economic in its storytelling, giving each scene room to breathe, to let the audience and characters sit in each moment yet always keeping momentum.
Love in a number of its forms
The second watch also highlighted one of my biggest struggles with the film, it sets out to explore love in a number of its forms – having such a strong emphasis on familial bonds. Yet, the central romance at the heart of the piece struggles to develop, together Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal are electric, I could watch those two mumbling to eachother for hours, especially when they’re discussing their lives and outlooks on how general perceptions of queerness have changed over the time. It is genuinely brilliant. I just wish for more scenes showing the relationship, their dynamic and performances are so naturalistic, leaving you searching the frame for the slightest nuance or detail. This romantic chemistry is so special, the lightning is caught in the bottle, I would have loved to see it fully developed.
Hold your loved ones near
Writer/Director Andrew Haigh has adapted the Japanese novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada into a touching emotional drama that despite some shortcomings, any film that makes you want to hold your loved ones near and tell them how much you love them is a film worth experiencing.