As unlikely as it may seem, there are so far only two tenants in the glistening high-rise that’s just gone up on the outskirts of London. Alone and in his midforties, Adam (Andrew Scott) is working on a screenplay, drawing on memories of his childhood, and he’s getting nowhere. He pages through photo albums, listens to the soundtrack of his youth—Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Pet Shop Boys, Fine Young Cannibals, the Housemartins—but none of these prompts are putting words on the page.
A fire alarm sends him out onto the street, and when he looks up to the building, he sees the other tenant returning his gaze. Harry (Paul Mescal), around ten years younger, later knocks on Adam’s door, but the blocked screenwriter politely sends him away. Adam takes a train out to a neighborhood in South London, to the actual house that All of Us Strangers director Andrew Haigh grew up in. Out in the yard, he sees his father (Jamie Bell), who tells him to come on inside, where his mother (Claire Foy) marvels that her boy has become a man. Neither of his parents look a day older than they did when they were killed in a car wreck when Adam was twelve.
IndieWire’s David Ehrlich suggests that Haigh’s “lo-fi approach to the afterlife cleaves much closer to the plaintive wistfulness of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life than it does the violent sentimentality of Field of Dreams. Which isn’t to suggest that All of Us Strangers isn’t a nuclear-grade tearjerker, because it is most definitely that, especially once Adam’s burgeoning relationship with Harry begins to compound the one he resurrects with his parents.”
“The atemporal, in-between state of gay life has rarely been so keenly or poignantly dramatized on screen,” writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. “Adam’s paranormal ability to talk to his parents, who are stuck in a 1987 idea of the world, about his life as a gay man in the third decade of the twenty-first century facilitates complicated dialogues about the unsettled condition of contemporary queerness. These delicately written conversations are among the most authentic and heartbreaking of Haigh’s career thus far, allowing him to expound upon the tricky social situation of gay people whose day-to-day feelings of estrangement might not square with the widely held narrative of acceptance and assimilation.”
Back in the city, Adam and Harry head out to the clubs “when they finally decide to take their togetherness out into the world,” as Tomris Laffly writes at TheWrap. “Shooting on 35 mm film, Haigh and his cinematographer, Jamie Ramsay (of the dazzling Living), benefit immensely from the intimacy of film stock throughout these scenes, both grounded and dreamy like a hazy, wistful memory.”
Adapted from a 1987 novel by Taichi Yamada, All of Us Strangers “is in some ways a companion piece to Andrew Haigh’s stunning 2011 breakthrough, Weekend,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney. “But it also feels like something new, strange, and soul-stirring that the director has been working toward his entire career.” For the Los Angeles Times’s Justin Chang, the film is “a balancing act of extraordinary gossamer-thin delicacy: It’s a quasi-supernatural coming-of-age drama, a meditation on loneliness, and an achingly tender and sensual romance, all playing out in the same enveloping minor key.”