People love moviegoing for so many different reasons. Whether it’s the adrenaline rush, the exploration of different worlds and cultures, the pure fantasy, a good laugh or cry, or perhaps just the air conditioning and popcorn, seeing a film in a cinema can feel beautifully communal. Take the talkers and texters out of the equation and there’s nothing like sitting in a room full of strangers collectively responding to a story flickering on a screen. I say this as a way to recommend how best to experience Andrew Haigh’s latest film, All Of Us Strangers, a staggeringly beautiful story about making peace with the past while finding a path forward. While streaming it at home may seem like the best bet for a low budget film with no special effects, you will miss out on the shared sighs and tears from your fellow moviegoers. When was the last time you witnessed a crowd sitting through the end credits of a film because they needed a moment to control their sobbing or because they just didn’t want to leave these characters behind?
Andrew Scott (Fleabag’s Hot Priest) stars as Adam, a gay screenwriter living in a close to vacant high-rise apartment building in London who goes outside during a fire drill one evening and sees what seems like the only other tenant standing at his window. When the other tenant, Harry (Paul Mescal), knocks on his door later looking disheveled and inebriated and makes a sexual advance, Adam turns him down. Adam seems disconnected, perhaps because he’s busy researching a script he’s writing. We watch him take a train to the town he grew up in where he encounters a man and a woman, played by Jamie Bell and Claire Foy, who just may provide some insight into his emotional distance. Harry eventually helps tear down some of those walls as he and Adam develop romantic feelings for each other. To say anything more about the story would spoil the joy of discovering for yourself how these plot strands come together.
Needless to say, this quartet of actors form one of the strongest ensembles of the year. Foy and Bell do some of the best work of their careers as people seemingly stuck in older ways of thinking but who show so much human vulnerability. Foy has the unenviable task of portraying a somewhat homophobic character, but she finds an endearingly naive angle to sweetly offset such an unsympathetic world view. Bell finds layers of gentility, especially in a devastating scene in which he confesses his weaknesses to Adam. Mescal imbues Harry with shaggy loose energy, somewhat untamed and wild, full of humor, tragedy, and a palpable chemistry with Scott. But this film belongs to Scott in a nakedly vulnerable, fragile, and deeply felt portrayal of a lonely man trying to reconcile with his past traumas. Often so outstanding in supporting roles, Scott, in his first lead, masterfully guides us through this puzzle of an emotional journey.
Eschewing a traditional narrative, Haigh, who adapted his screenplay from Taichi Yamada’s 1987 novel, Strangers, takes an abstract approach to the story while finding enormous warmth with the tone. The film feels like one slowly breaking heart. The consistently gorgeous cinematography from Jamie Ramsay and lush score by Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, aided by some truly memorable needle drops, feel completely in concert with each other. The use of the Pet Shop Boys’ cover of “Always On My Mind” in particular makes it seem like you were inside Adam’s head, filled as it is with nostalgia and longing.
Although the film centers around a gay man, his way of examining his own past feels so universal. Anyone can relate to feeling stuck in their lives, and judging by the audience I watched this film with, it will strike a chord with anyone who possesses empathy. The last act, however, feels a little rushed and confusing but aims for something profound nonetheless. It will likely lead to intense discussions about what has actually occurred, so make post-screening dinner plans. You’ll want to hash things out, and isn’t that rare and wonderful?
Haigh, who has impressed with such films as Weekend, 45 Years, and the TV series Looking, outdoes himself here by showing us a gay character we’ve not seen before and doing so with great sensitivity and quiet power. In a year of ambitious epics like Oppenheimer and Killers Of The Flower Moon, Haigh has delivered something sublimely intimate but no less grand.
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
All Of Us Strangers premiered at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival and opens in theaters on December 22nd, 2023.