Adam points the question at his mother (Claire Foy) over tea. Mere minutes after learning that her son is gay, she asks why on earth that people like Adam want to get married. This scene is one of the revelatory wonders of All of Us Strangers, Andrew Haigh’s latest portrait of queer life that comes straight from the heart.
It’s a brilliant scene as forty-something Adam bristles when his mom pesters him about whether he has a girlfriend. Adam rolls his mom’s disappointment off his shoulders and tells her that he’s doing okay. (“What parent would want that of her child?” she mutters.) He defends the rights of gay marriage while admitting to his mom that he hadn’t considered it for so long since it wasn’t a possibility until recently. He tells her that being gay isn’t a death sentence with AIDS and counters her query that being gay entails a lonely life. “If I’m lonely, it isn’t because I’m gay,” he insists.
His mom, however, couldn’t have known these developments because she’s been dead for thirty years. She doesn’t understand how much the world has changed and how much her boy grew up in her absence. But she’s having a conversation now with her adult son and it might be the most refreshing and empowering coming out scene ever put to film. The wisdom and confidence gained through experience allow Adam to take control of the conversation in a way that he could never have as a young boy in the 1980s.
A Masterful Adaptation
The memories of things unsaid profoundly haunt All of Us Strangers. The film offers a masterclass in writing, acting, and directing as Haigh (Weekend) brings to the screen a personal adaptation of the novel by Taichi Yamada. The story remains loosely the same as Adam meets a mysterious stranger in his apartment and they begin a relationship. As they gradually fall in love, Adam takes trips back home and makes up for lost time with his parents. Adam, a writer, is working on his latest screenplay. His parents are the inspiration as he gazes out the window of his vacant London apartment and returns to boyhood to consider lost years. Like his mom, he has lots of catching up to do.
Haigh’s adaptation, however, switches the gender of Adam’s love interest from a woman to a man. In the film, he’s Harry (Paul Mescal), the only other resident in Adam’s strangely empty apartment building, which has cavernous halls and crippling silence. It seems like the loneliest place on earth. This ingenious stroke takes Yamada’s excellent ghost story, which reads like a José Saramago-ish meditation on loneliness, and elevates it into a deeply moving study of the ways in which the regret and lost time eat away a person.
All of Us Strangers is especially refreshing for its depiction of the relationship between a queer child and his parents through this lens. Haigh introduces the theme quite playfully as Adam, researching his old neighbourhood, strolls through the park. A handsome man walks by, glances Adam’s way, and walks back into the bush. The research trip now evokes a cruising expedition. It seems that Adam has picked up a daddy.
However, it turns out that the daddy is more literal than figurative. It’s Adam’s dad (Jamie Bell). He’s not looking for action. Rather, he’s thrilled to see his boy again and brings him back home—a lovely little place that’s actually Haigh’s own childhood home, which adds to the film’s lived-in authenticity as a portrait of a working class family grounded by love. Cutting back and forth between scenes of Adam and Harry discovering one another, making love, and enjoying the afterglow with scenes of Adam and his parents filling in those absent years, All of Us Strangers illustrates how much a positive experience in one life uplifts a person in later years.
Refreshing Parent-Child Relationship
Too many queer films favour tragic turns in family relationships following the discovery or admission of homosexuality, but All of Us Strangers proves poignantly refreshing with its aspirational portrait of unwavering love. Haigh straddles genres imperceptibly and one can easily forget that Adam’s encounters with his parents are speculative fiction. If there’s an absence of conflict, there’s great emotional power to the fantasy that Adam enjoys with his mom and dad. Whether he’s seeing ghosts or imagining scenes through the writing process, the absence of conflict is is what makes the film so profound. With the aforementioned coming out scene, as well as one in which confronts the past with his dad, who also died in the car accident with Adam’s mom years ago, Haigh creates relationships that could do wonders for anyone waiting for the right time to have tough conversations.
The intergenerational play and speculative twists infiltrate Adam’s storyline with Harry as well. The brutal emptiness of the apartment building evokes the abandonment that so many people faced during the AIDS epidemic. Yet Haigh conjures a perfectly contained world that is inviting and illustrates the power of love—familial, romantic, fraternal—and the very different paths lives take if doors are opened or closed. But there’s an understated sensuousness to the growth of the relationship between Adam and Harry when the former somewhat reluctantly lets the latter into his life. Small things, like their debate about how words like “gay” and “queer” mean different things to men of different ages, further evoke the wisdom passed between generations. So too does the forward thrust of Harry’s sex drive, as the younger man eases the older out of his shell.
From Hot Priest to Wise Man
Moreover, the four performances ensure that this is a deeply moving, emotionally shattering exploration of love lost, found, and lost again. Scott, best known for his turn as the hot priest on Fleabag, proves himself anew as a dramatic actor. It’s a richly affecting performance that effusively captures the sparks of love with his screen partners.
With Mescal, he’s intense and searching, but with Foy and Bell, Scott deftly juggles young Adam with older Adam: on one hand, Adam yearns to reclaim the lost youth, but on the other, he recognizes that there’s something uniquely refreshing about getting to know one’s parents when they’re younger than he is now. Adam is alone when he gazes out of his apartment window at the beginning of the film, but as Scott brings the character to life, he makes him a product of his relationships—someone who grows with the comfort of others and someone who carries people in his heart long after they’ve passed.
Scott’s performance—all these performances, really—ensure that All of Us Strangers gives a viewer all the feels. All of Us Strangers hits all the right notes with Haigh’s study of queer relationships, particularly the words passed from one generation to the next. Most refreshingly, though, Haigh’s takes back Yamada’s probing study of loneliness to assert that “the lifestyle” is anything but. The film envelopes you with with a tight warm hug.