A beautifully touching central performance from Andrew Scott elevates ALL OF US STRANGERS to stirring levels, and Andrew Haigh’s directorial gift for eliciting emotional sincerity remains undimmed since his breakout sophomore feature, WEEKEND. Even if the film flirts with becoming too fantastical, especially with a divisive conclusion, the way it captures poignant truths and beautiful visuals makes it challenging to throw much, if any, cynicism its way.
Adam (Andrew Scott) is a writer who seems to inhabit an eerily resident-free building in London, save for Harry (Paul Mescal). Harry drunkenly flirts at Adam’s door and is rebuffed despite Adam’s palpable intrigue. Adam then feels the need to visit his childhood house, where he finds his parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy), seemingly frozen in time as they were before dying in a car accident thirty years prior.
On the face of it, ALL OF US STRANGERS would seem to be capturing some very specific experiences, such as processing the deaths of parents while young, coming to terms with what their perception of your sexuality may have been, and the effect of that early bereavement on the protagonist’s confidence in making connections as an adult. Haigh’s very personal-feeling film nevertheless establishes some impassioned hooks upon which just about anyone could hang their own baggage. Scott is the chief on-screen facilitator of this, whose ability to convey feeling in the most minor shifts of body language or facial expression is evident from the first encounter with Harry. Mescal aids the lead performance by generating obvious chemistry, which develops further as the film progresses and allows Scott to establish different emotional registers.
“The film looks beautiful, marrying Adam’s family home’s warm and welcoming aura with a sparseness that allows it to retain a melancholy befitting the central, tragic conceit.”
The film looks beautiful, marrying Adam’s family home’s warm and welcoming aura with a sparseness that allows it to retain a melancholy befitting the central, tragic conceit. The more sterile glass and steel of the London skyline viewable from Adam’s apartment also conveys emotional isolation in a manner which may be unsubtle but is undoubtedly visually striking.
The most precise expressions of the film’s strengths and weaknesses reside in the roles of Jamie Bell and Claire Foy. As Adam’s parents, they seem aware of their fate, and the film is abstract about the extent of what is happening in our protagonist’s head. In some ways, this conceit echoes and inverts Céline Sciamma’s PETITE MAMAN and harmonises with that film’s ideas around children striving to understand how their parents came to be the people who raised them. Adam’s parents here are not real people but memories of people, with their son striving to understand what they would make of the man he has become. Some of the imagery Haigh employs to demonstrate Adam’s lingering inner torment and damaged self-perception is also highly effective in augmenting this confused sense of self he has carried into adulthood.
Adam’s interactions with his mother are especially touching, and the assertion that he has “just muddled through” in life being the very thing his parents are proud of succinctly captures a complex melange of hopes parents may have for their children. At the same time, some of the more obvious routes are also trodden, with a discussion with his father leaning close to a more maudlin tone, which only avoids being a more mawkish segment by virtue of the dexterity of Scott’s performance.
“Adam’s interactions with his mother are especially touching, and the assertion that he has “just muddled through” in life being the very thing his parents are proud of succinctly captures a complex melange of hopes parents may have for their children.”
How the film progresses and resolves the relationship between Adam and Harry will likely be the film’s most divisive element. Still, it gels thematically with the relationship Adam establishes with his parents during Haigh’s story. ALL OF US STRANGERS is a work that perfectly evokes the potency of storytelling power when it collides with our memories of those who loved – or could have loved – us. The film skillfully demonstrates the desire to determine the unknowable when combining our possible paths through life and those we have lost along the way. The film shows us both sides of letting such questions rattle around our heads: the ability to resolve internal strife with an imagined story versus becoming lost in fantasy. Adam’s tale here shows better than most that the fleeting ‘present’ does not exist; we are strangers to our past selves and loved ones, as well as our future selves and loved ones. Hopefully, each would be proud of how the other muddled through.