Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Interested Bystander Film Review: Andrew Scott Sees Dead People When Revisiting Grief in Excellent “All of Us Strangers”

All of Us Strangers (c) Searchlight Pictures

 Film: All of Us Strangers 
In Cinemas 

Premise: Adam (Andrew Scott) is a writer living alone in London, trying frustratingly to write about the one topic he seems to have been avoiding all his life: the death of his parents in a car accident when he was about twelve years old. He is living in a new modern apartment building where he is appears to be one of two residents to have moved there. The other, Harry (Paul Mescal), drunkenly hits on Adam one night, and Adam, although interested, politely declines. Thankfully, they give it another chance (this time when Harry is sober) and the two hit it off. With this new relationship invigorating him, Adam soldiers on with his parents’ story. He decides on a whim to take the train to his hometown to visit his childhood home, and to his surprise, he runs into his parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy) who are the same age Adam remembers them when they died. They invite him into the house, which hasn’t changed, and they start to “catch up.” Is this all happening in Adam’s mind and he’s playing out what he would talk to his parents about if they were alive again? Or, is the childhood home a haunted house, still occupied by the ghosts of his parents, who have some unresolved earthly issues keeping them in this purgatory? Or is it something else? Like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, Adam gets a chance to interact with his parents–roughly the same age he is now–on this emotional whirlwind to the past. 

All of Us Strangers (c) Searchlight Pictures

My Take: Director Andrew Haigh is mostly known for his relentlessly honest gay themed works including the seminal hook-up film, Weekend and the TV show, Looking. But he has also excelled in dramas revolving around human trauma, like the secrets undiscussed by an older couple in 45 Years or the desperate but resilient homeless teenager in Lean on Pete who must fend for himself on the road to what he hopes is salvation. All of Us Strangers, based on the 1987 novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, is a fascinating but somewhat shoehorned combination of these two themes that keeps us hooked with the mystery of it all before totally gobsmacking us with a finale that is cathartically draining. What Haigh withholds from the audience is any real explanation as to why these things are happening to Adam at this time in his life. Why, after all these years, is Adam finally in love in one of the most impersonal urban buildings in London? Why are his parents back? Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s score gives the early scenes a haunting mood without overplaying her hand. But by the time the movie attempts to answer these questions, I kind of wish it hadn’t. This is Adam’s story, and whether it’s all in his head or he has that Sixth Sense of seeing dead people, it seems rather superfluous to him discovering how empty his life has been without any familial moral support. Andrew Scott is a revelation here, keeping us invested, even when the fog of mystery shrouds both him and the audience, but also giving full support are his three co-stars, especially Foy and Bell, who play Adam’s parents naturalistically. Mescal, a surprise Oscar nominee last year for Aftersun is full of warmth and humor. Haigh also gives the gay love story the respect it deserves, which he did so successfully in Weekend.

All of Us Strangers (c) Searchlight Pictures

VIP: Andrew Scott. Scott has been doing consistently excellent work, mostly in supporting roles.  He has been in high profile projects like James Bond, but he is mostly known as Hot Priest in “Fleabag” or Moriarty in PBS’s “Sherlock.” He is also an out actor who doesn’t shy away from gay roles, like in the indie classic “Pride” and in his best role to date, as the vain actor Garry Essendine in the National Theatre Live capture of Noel Coward’s “Present Laughter,” with a decidedly bold queer bent. But here Scott is the lead, and he is captivating without overplaying his hand. There’s a scene where Adam is talking to Harry about the daunting task of writing about his dead parents and says, dismissively, “It was a long time ago,” to which Harry responds, “I don’t think that matters.” Then later, when he’s having a heart-to-heart talk with his suddenly alive father, Adam tries to comfort his father’s guilt with the same “It was so long ago” but this time, it catches in his throat as this emotional reunion finally catches up to him. Scott is stunning here as well as throughout the first-rate “All of Us Strangers.”

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