Combustible Celluloid Review - All of Us Strangers (2023), Andrew Haigh, based on a novel by Taichi Yamada, Andrew Haigh, Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, Claire Foy
Combustible Celluloid
With: Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, Claire Foy
Written by: Andrew Haigh, based on a novel by Taichi Yamada
Directed by: Andrew Haigh
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug use
Running Time: 105
Date: 12/22/2023

All of Us Strangers (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Home Atone

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This drama may sound offbeat, but watching it, director Andrew Haigh's gentle, exploring tones make everything seem quite natural; it's a ghost story, perhaps, but there's more than one kind of ghost.

Scriptwriter Adam (Andrew Scott) lives alone in a nearly-empty apartment building in London. An upstairs neighbor, Harry (Paul Mescal), perhaps a little drunk, drops by and flirts, but Adam rebuffs him. Looking for inspiration for a new script, he goes through a box of old things and finds a photo of his childhood home. He gets on a train, finds the house, and, miraculously, finds his parents inside, alive, and preserved as they were when they died in the 1980s.

After an emotional visit, he returns to find just his Mum (Claire Foy), and then again, finding just his Dad (Jamie Bell), giving him an opportunity to speak to each of them separately. Meanwhile, he reaches out to Harry and the two strike up a relationship that seems promising. But when Adam tries to take Harry to meet his parents, things go drastically sideways.

Based loosely on a novel by Taichi Yamada and adapted by Haigh (Weekend, Lean on Pete), All of Us Strangers is an exceptionally quiet movie, lingering in the spaces between memory, between time. Adam is lost, formed by emptiness springing from a tragic childhood and growing up gay during the AIDS crisis. While he seems settled in his life, he frequently answers "I don't know" when asked questions. (Scott's performance is deeply affecting, finding just the right balance.)

The relationship between Adam and Harry is refreshingly easy, even tender. When Adam returns from a trip, feverish from having been caught in the rain, Harry draws him a bath. (Harry is shy to undress in front of him, even though they've already made love.)

Haigh often shows characters in reflections, indicating their indistinct, perhaps temporary, nature, and, of course, he never directly answers the question of how Adam's parents are there; they just are. Conversations throughout are extremely open, exploring past hurts, and coming to terms with Adam's sexuality, all with thoughtfulness and no hysteria. In the end, All of Us Strangers does not leave off with a clear theme; instead it suggests that maybe that which is already broken cannot be unbroken, but love helps.

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