All of Us Strangers (United Kingdom, 2023)

January 19, 2024
A movie review by James Berardinelli
All of Us Strangers Poster

This review contains oblique spoilers in the way it references other movies.

Putting aside concerns about logic, since they obviously don’t apply in a fantasy-tinged movie like this, All of Us Strangers nevertheless suffers from some structural flaws (most notably the ending). Still, the movie gets the emotional temperature of its characters right and provides a number of poignant scenes that explore not only the difficulties of being gay in the 1980s but of having to cope with the unexpected death of both parents while struggling with this emerging sexuality. Although the movie as a whole never quite gels, individual scenes shine. And, if the whole thing devolves into a weird amalgamation of Ghost and The Sixth Sense at the end, at least there’s a lot of power prior to that late innings twist.

The film’s main character, Adam (Andrew Scott), is a lonely gay writer living in a mostly-empty London high rise apartment. He’s struggling with his current screenplay, a story that forces him to recall his relationship with his parents (Jamie Bell and Claire Foy), who died when he was 12 years old in 1987. A bizarre encounter with Harry (Paul Mescal), who is (a) much younger than Adam, (b) drunk, and (c) equally lonely, eventually leads to bonding and a sexual relationship. Meanwhile, Adam takes the train back to his childhood home and finds his parents there waiting for him, looking exactly as they did at the time of their deaths but fully aware that many years have passed.

Most viewers will be intrigued by the mechanics that allow the 40-something Adam to interact with his parents, who are physically younger than he is by about 10 years. They are self-aware, in that they know they have died, leaving him alone (although they are unaware of the circumstances of their deaths). Are they ghosts? Dreams? Or is this a fantasy contrived inside Adam’s head? His frequent mentions of having a fever seem to be a clue but are actually a red herring. For much of the movie, it would seem that the nature of the parents’ existences isn’t of import, although director Andrew Haigh (working from the novel by Taichi Yamada) switches this up toward the end. This proves to be an unwise decision because it unbalances the film.

Although the romantic elements don’t gel – the chemistry between Scott and Mescal (who is 20 years younger) is fitful and the two don’t have much in common beyond both being gay and lonely – there’s power in the scenes when Adam interacts with his parents. Of particular note is the understated moment with his mother during which he comes out. Her reactions – confusion and hurt followed by an attempt to understand and do her best to be supportive – are representative of how many mothers (and fathers) felt during the 1980s. Dad’s reaction is markedly different with a gruffness hiding whatever disappointment he may be experiencing (he also claims to have known). Viewers are left wondering whether these are genuine conversations between a man and the specters of his loved ones or whether this is how Adam imagines the dialogue might go.  Not until the end do various Sixth Sense parallels come into play.

One of the great strengths of All of Us Strangers is the performance of Andrew Scott, whose depth of character is excellent. A character actor by trade, Scott has become a familiar face over his 25+ years in the business thanks to secondary roles in a vast number of movies and TV shows (including playing Moriarty to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes). On this occasion, he is allowed to take center stage and does so with passion and commitment. His scenes with Claire Foy are the best the film has to offer. Jamie Bell and Paul Mescal round out the quartet.

Haigh has spoken about the personal nature of the story both to him as a gay man who came out during his 20s and as someone who literally came home to make this movie (scenes in Adam’s parents’ home were filmed in Haigh’s own childhood house). The depth of his attachment to the material comes across in the scenes where Adam’s seemingly real interactions with his parents function as coping devices that allow him to experience form of supernatural, existential healing. Although aspects of All of Us Strangers have a cheesy flavor, the raw honesty of the movie’s best moments propel the narrative through its less credible pitstops.

All of Us Strangers (United Kingdom, 2023)

Director: Andrew Haigh
Cast: Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, Claire Foy
Screenplay: Andrew Haigh, based on the novel by Taichi Yamada
Cinematography: Jamie Ramsay
Music: Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch
U.S. Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2023-12-22
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Content, Profanity, Drugs)
Genre: Drama/Fantasy
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1