by Ben Packer (University of Sussex)
Reviewed as part of CINECITY The Brighton Film Festival – Duke of York’s 19 Nov 23.
Loneliness may be something every adult experiences and that can send us running back to a time where our guardians kept our lives full. There’s a comforting familiarity in childhood and parents, even if you were not fully understood back then and even more of a stranger now. All of Us Strangers is a compassionately told story full of empathy that is at its strongest with its unapologetically realistic, wonderfully performed romance, told with a touch of surrealism that makes it all the more heartbreaking.
Andrew Haigh’s latest I found to be a breath of fresh air for its perfectly realistic, up to date portrayal of its subject. This is a story of two lonely men, living in the same, quiet apartment block, with their own issues and pasts, and they are gay. They have had to deal with the challenges of that eternal part of them, but it does not define them. It is not overexaggerated or oversentimental, it is just real and all the more touching and poetic for that realism. That is thanks to the empathy and consideration of Haigh’s dialogue and an emotionally complex and raw performance from Andrew Scott, who sells every moment of love, pain and fear, just as Paul Mescal does in his supporting role, adding to his catalogue of movingly authentic performances. The sheer sensitivity and humanity of these characters makes for a therapeutic experience, whether tackling their troubled but relatable pasts or intimate tension of their new found love, as psychological complexity brews when past and present begin to bleed together.
Haigh takes the film down a surreal and psychological route, which I was pleasantly surprised by, that immerses you in feelings of nostalgia and a mixture of joy and hurt. I adore the length of these honest, dialogue-based scenes of reminiscing that are crafted with such compassion, conjuring such melancholy and yearning for your parents, it is undeniably potent. The patience of the scenes, even exceptionally long takes at times, truly lets the actors breathe and this is where Claire Foy’s maternal tenderness and Jamie Bell’s restrained encouragement embody a mother and father worthy of the nostalgia the filmmaking arouses. However, there is more complexity to these already strong emotions, as despite their welcoming parental energy, the film would never claim that perfect parents exist and the exploration of their misunderstandings and even cowardice towards caring for their now grown-up son faces our protagonist with brutally emotional reflections. Although, the weight of the emotion is offset by some welcome, appropriate self-awareness at times.
The entire runtime is rich with feeling, however, the ending reaches an emotional climax that stunned me into instinctive applause the moment the credits rolled and has lived inside my head ever since. The tenderness of Scott and Mescal, striking, ethereal visuals, in combination with The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood produce magnificently moving final moments. The title of the song choice alone worried me that the film would end sappily, but it proves perfect, used in the most melancholic, powerful way that filled me with the sadness and tragedy of the film. It is beautiful.
All of Us Strangers is an intimate, feeling based exploration of nostalgia that is mature and realistic in its complexity, full of touching appreciation for parents, but never ignorant towards trauma, even if subtle or subdued by time. The romance alongside is built off utter empathy and the psychological, poetic presentation of the inherently interconnected storylines builds to a shattering climax.