All of Us Strangers combines grief and romance in compelling ways
Grief and loneliness are two things that almost everyone deals with at some point in their lives, but confronting them in movies can be tricky. If you give in too much to the ideas, it can be a depressing slog that no one wants to sit through. If you only give them the surface level treatment, you run the risk of not making your story emotional enough.
The new film All of Us Strangers rides that fine line exquisitely well. Adam (Andrew Scott) is a struggling screenwriter living a lonely life in a nondescript high rise in London. An orphan since the time he was 12, Adam has settled into a type of depression, unable to write much or explore the world. A chance meeting with Harry (Paul Mescal) leads him to open up a bit, and the two of them are soon tentatively but assuredly pursuing a relationship.
At the same time, Adam starts taking train trips to his old family home, imagining – or not imagining? – that his long-dead parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy) are there and able to interact with him. His conversations with them, together and separately, allow him to reveal parts of himself that he never got to when they were alive, even if the talks don’t always go the way he’d like.
Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, the film has a dreamlike quality all the way through. The story is entirely from the perspective of Adam, and because he’s in a haze right from the beginning, it’s never entirely clear if anything that’s happening to him is real. It’s understandable that he’s yearning for some kind of connection to make his life worthwhile, and the appearance of Harry and Adam’s parents seem to happen like magic, whether or not they actually are.
The visits with Adam’s parents are highly emotional, although not always in the way you might think. He does use them as a way to tell them aspects of his life that his parents never got to know – especially him being gay – but they’re also treated leisurely, not some highly unusual circumstance that Adam isn’t expecting. This approach works for the film, allowing Adam to maintain an even keel despite experiencing psychological upheaval.
The budding relationship with Harry is romantic, but it’s less sweep-you-off-your-feet than it is a relief. The building in which they both live is one that seems to be designed to isolate people from one another, and so them finding each other is almost like a miracle. Their growing bond comes off as one that takes a pressure off of both of them, as if neither could imagine that they’d actually find someone in their solitary lives.
Scott, best known as “Hot Priest” on Fleabag or Moriarty from Sherlock, is great in the lead role, never trying to oversell any of the big moments and remaining compelling in the smaller ones. This is a relatively small part for Mescal, but he connects with his soulful eyes. Bell and Foy become the soul of the film, grounding the story even as their characters are the most fantastical thing about it.
The loss of one’s parents at a young age brings unimaginable pain, and All of Us Strangers brings that to the fore in subtle yet powerful ways. By combining it with a love story, Haigh manages to add another emotional level to the film that enhances both sides.
All of Us Strangers is now playing in select theaters.