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All of Us Strangers

Directed by Andrew Haigh
Produced by Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, and Sarah Harvey
Screenplay by Andrew Haigh Based on the novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada
With: Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, and Claire Foy
Cinematography: Jamie Ramsay
Editing: Jonathan Alberts
Music: Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch
Runtime: 105 min
Release Date: 22 December 2023
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color: Color

Andrew Haigh is a filmmaker I should love. His first major feature, Weekend (2011), is a quintessential example of my favorite film genre, the brief-encounter picture, and his follow-up, 45 Years (2015), is a talky British drama about an older couple reexamining their past, which checks a lot of boxes for me. However, I have a difficult time fully engaging with Haigh's work. My favorite of his films is Lean on Pete (2018), a languid but lyrical movie about a boy and a horse. His latest, All of Us Strangers, is about a lonely, middle-aged, gay screenwriter named Adam (Andrew Scott) who strikes up a relationship with his mysterious neighbor Harry (Paul Mescal) while embarking on a writing project about his parents. Visiting his childhood home, he discovers that his long-dead folks, who were killed in a car crash when he was a young boy, are still living there, and they haven't aged a day.

Magical realism is another genre I resonate with, but All of Us Strangers doesn't really fit that criteria. The film is based on the 1987 novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, which was adapted into the 1988 Japanese horror film The Discarnates. I'm not exactly sure what style of movie Haigh's latest is, but it is certainly not a horror movie. At its best, it's a rare opportunity to have characters of different ages and different eras engage with each other about issues of sexuality, identity, relationships, and parenting from distinct cultural perspectives separated by decades. We get to observe conversations between the past and the present.

All of Us Strangers never dissolves into the type of Millennial apology porn I dislike so much. Adam is not overtly looking for or expecting his late parents to validate any negative views he might be harboring about how their choices in raising him may have contributed to his melancholy state or any unresolved traumas that are in his way. In fact, the scenes where he and his folks sit and talk as quasi-peers—since they are now about the same age—are where this movie shines. I'm not a fan of film reviews that just want a movie to be something other than what it is. In this case, though, I can't help but wish that All of Us Strangers was a magical realism short in which a lonely middle-aged gay man visits his childhood home and has a single long conversation with his dead middle-aged parents—a kind of grown-up version of what Céline Sciamma did so exquisitely in Petite Maman (2021).

But Haigh's film has so many layers of "fantasy" that it leaves the viewer with no sense of grounding. At least there is no narrative grounding; perhaps the vibe of fashionable ennui will be enough for many in this movie's target demographic. But I need some sense of reality in a film, even if just the film's own internal logic, before I can go with it in any supernatural or imagined direction. Otherwise, my head is filled with so many questions that I can't fully engage. I mean, how is Adam's childhood home standing vacant and untouched in the middle of London? Is no one living there? Has no one lived there for thirty years? Are there really brand-new high-rise apartment blocks on the outskirts of the huge, expensive, international city that are deserted except for two single guys living on different floors? Why is Adam a screenwriter? Is this all something he's imagining as he writes? Is Paul Mescal's character a fantasy? Is he a ghost? Is everyone, including Adam, a ghost? Is everybody dead and existing inside a star while simultaneously living in some kind of bachelor pad limbo of unfulfilled ambitions, unsettled grief, and other first-world problems? The more these questions arise, the less I care about Adam despite Scott's nuanced, internalized performance.

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Andrew Scott gives a nuanced, internalized performance as a lonely, middle-aged gay man who enters into a relationship with a younger man while at the same time visiting his long-deceased parents in Andrew Haigh's ungrounded exploration of fashionable ennui.