The conceit of “All of Us Strangers” is an inherently potent one, whether you are someone who has a good relationship with your parents or a nonexistent one. If there’s anyone you want to love and accept you for exactly who you are, it’s your parents, and if death has removed that as a possibility in your life, something will always be twisted up inside you. The problem comes with the film utilizing that conceit. Ultimately, the scenes with the parents feel like they have been ripped straight out of the script pages of dozens of other coming out narratives, but instead of it being about someone in their early 20s and their parents, Adam is in his late 40s. The emotional catharsis he reaches in each encounter, which inevitably end with him in tears each time, are far too broad and familiar, despite the circumstances under which they occur being anything but. Adam has been holding on to three decades of anguish, and his conversations with his dead parents don’t really reflect that lengthy amount of time.
None of these issues can be put at the feet of the quartet of brilliant actors here, each of whom are giving their whole selves over to make this material appear deeper than it is. What struck me about Andrew Scott’s performance wasn’t his tear-filled talks with Claire Foy and Jamie Bell (though he’s just as locked in for those), but his physicality. Adam is someone uncomfortable in his own skin, and he performs certain tasks — like holding someone’s hand or taking off his clothes — like this is the first time he’s ever done these things. There’s an inelegance in them and an awkwardness with how he carries himself, but there’s no indicating going on at all. He’s just living and breathing that person. That can be said for the other three actors as well, particularly Claire Foy, who finds some idiosyncratic notes to play in what is probably the most stock character of the bunch.
I generally am a pretty big fan of Andrew Haigh’s work. Films like “45 Years” and “Lean on Pete” are packed to the brim with pure soul with a elegant visual sense to match. “All of Us Strangers” has plenty of visual dynamism. Shot on 35mm by cinematographer Jamie Ramsay, the colors feel warm without being inorganic, aiding in the film’s hazy, dreamy atmosphere. There’s a beautiful sensuousness in the scenes between Scott and Mescal, and in the scenes with the parents that essentially work as time travel to late ’80s/early ’90s, the 35mm helps in conveying the period spectacularly.
What’s missing here is that pure soul. The film seems like it should be this deeply personal exploration of one’s own struggle to connect with others because of an inability to fully accept themself, but in practice, “All of Us Strangers” plays more like a sentimental novel you’d find at an airport newsstand. It’s made with far more skill and care than those typically are, but at its core, they contain about the same amount of emotional insight. Because of its exceptional performances and striking look, it may be enough to wring some tears out of you. As someone who has responded that way to Haigh’s previous works, I was expecting that to happen to me. Instead, I was left wanting more.
/Film Rating: 5.5 out of 10