'All of Us Strangers' (dir. Andrew Haigh) Film Review | JG Review
'All of Us Strangers', dir. Andrew Haigh (105mins) | In Theatres January 26th, 2024
I think I speak for most when I admit my anticipation for All of Us Strangers was primarily founded on the little crushes I harbour over Paul Mescal, Ireland's newest poster-boy, and Andrew Scott, who is perhaps the finest actor of his generation, and who also hails from the Emerald Isle. What I didn't expect was to walk out of All of Us Strangers unable to breathe through my own nose, barely able to see through bloodshot eyes, and moved by a sense of political urgency to proclaim this film one of the most prescient exemplars of gay art released in the post-marriage equality era.
There is an open secret in the LGBTQ+ community that we don't often like to address. Back in the 80s, the dominant rhetoric from concerned parents was the suggestion that to be gay is to live a lonelier life. It's a parental cliche that rears its head within All of Us Strangers itself, expertly delivered by Claire Foy halfway through the film. Since the 1980s, though, we've overcome the brunt of the HIV/AIDS crisis, attained marriage equality, established safe spaces for members of the community and continue to march for wider equality by way of necessitating the security of transgender rights. We have, for a long time, live-laugh-loved our way through meatier conversations about the statistical disparities that haunt the LGBTQ+ community, which see addiction, drug-abuse, suicide and poor mental health run rampant for many who identify as queer.
It's obvious why we didn't want to address these things as a community before societal stigma had eased off a little. To admit that we are more vulnerable to these emotional plagues would be to affirm the thoughts of the enemy: to be gay is to be lonely and sad (justified - in their eyes - because it's 'wrong'). But there has been, for a while, a gentle push toward confronting these emotional knots which riddle us all. How does our collective fear of emotional intimacy inform the sexual cultures within our community? Is the endemic of chemsex representative of our collective inability to revoke shame in the silence of sobriety? How can community thrive when, frankly, most of us have abandoned ourselves? These are all questions explored in Matthew Todd's best-selling book Straight Jacket, and it's a text which All of Us Strangers seems directly inspired by (the two would form a pertinent double feature).
Inspired by the novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, and brought to life by Andrew Haigh's (Weekend, 45 Years) directorial vision, All of Us Strangers employs Andrew Scott to act as a conduit for these urgent questions, and the result is a film which has instantly barged its way into my personal top picks of all time.
Scott plays Adam, a screen-writer living solo in a new-build Stratford tower block. He appears to be sharing the high-rise with only one other tenant; the fumbling flirt Harry (Paul Mescal) lives lower down on the sixth floor, and when the pair lock eyes during a fire drill, chemistry begins to build. Adam is absorbed in his current project, which revolves around his upbringing in a suburb on the edge of London, and more specifically around the premature death of his two parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy unite to play the pair).
Haigh, who directs this film off the back of his success with the Charlotte Rampling-led 45 Years, has clearly blended a lot of his own life story into the script, which is only loosely inspired by the ghostly premise of Yamada's text. This sense of directorial intimacy is clear throughout the film, but can be demonstrated more tangibly through the production's creative choices; the sequences set in Adam's childhood house, for example, were actually shot within the walls of Haigh's own childhood home.
The first half of All of Us Strangers feels like the filmic translation of an imaginative exercise I once did when training with the National Youth Theatre. My group - around 30 of us - were asked to sit in a circle and surrender to a guided meditation which asked us all to revisit our childhood bedrooms, to recall the sounds, sensations, feelings, smells and emotions that accompany this return, and to ground ourselves in those memories. So when Adam candidly reunites with his parents in the film - who casually answer the door when he arrives at his old home, no older than the day they died while Adam stands visibly as their senior - we aren't quite sure what we're watching; dream sequence, ghost story, psychosis, or metaphor? The film never answers these questions, and instead focuses on the emotional complexities of dwelling with the dead. Adam's time with his parents heals and hurts him in equal amounts. Growth and regression often come hand-in-hand, and Haigh demonstrates staggering vulnerability and emotional intelligence as he unpacks these opposing ideals.
But as the film continues, and Adam and Harry's relationship solidifies, the film pivots subtly toward the questions I ask above. "If I'm lonely it's not because I'm gay," Adam implores to his concerned late mother. "Are you sure?" she responds. It's a provocative question, but one Haigh unflinchingly poses to his audience with some urgency nonetheless. I felt like I was having my own personal therapy session as the film continued, and struggled to stifle my cries as others around me dried their eyes. To be quite vulnerable, this is a film that feels like it knows me, in a way I haven't felt seen by a film before.
It becomes increasingly apparent that this is a script which demands a high degree of directorial competence to successfully translate. I remember hoping, as the film drew closer toward its end, that Strangers would be able to stick the landing and earn the perfect score I'd already sensed it might demand from me. Somehow, Haigh manages to land this plane amidst a storm of questions and last-minute reveals which, in the wrong hands, could have absolutely de-railed the entire project. As I sit - still a little in shock - in the Picturehouse Cafe and type up this review, I'm thinking that All of Us Strangers might be the most hauntingly beautiful love story I've ever seen, and the most profound manifesto on modern queer masculinity we've had in British cinemas.
I can't really say much more for fear of spoiling the magic of this film. I don't want you to watch any trailers for this one. Go in blind. And bring tissues, please, you'll definitely need them. All of Us Strangers is a generation spanning, urgent appeal for warmth and connection within the queer community; "search the soul, make love your goal," as Frankie infamously implored. I am aware that I am the exact target demographic for a film like this (being a gay, white Londoner who was raised in the suburban fringe of Britain's capital). I'll admit I'm blind to how deeply this will resonate for those whose life experience has differed to my own. That being said, I'm pretty sure I've haven't heard that much sniffling in one room since February 2020. Regardless, this is JG's Review and not anybody else's; I can't deny how powerful this was for me. Mescal and Scott are exceptional. I just can't wait to watch this again.
Written by James Green