A few weeks ago, when I did the Films of 2023 Cosmic Circle podcast, there were a few films from the year that I was excited to see, but because of either time restraints or lack of showings in my area, I couldn’t before recording. At the top of that list was Searchlight Pictures’ All of Us Strangers. This film captured me from the moment I saw the trailer. It struck me as beautiful and effervescent, haunting my thoughts long past the parting shots. This was a movie made for me, I could just feel it in every scene shown, and I had yet to see the actual film.
However, All of Us Strangers posed an interesting conflict for readers like me. I’m a firm believer that the book is almost always better than the movie, so I was torn when going into this movie. I wasn’t aware that the book, Strangers by Taichi Yamada even existed until after I saw the trailer, and was asked if I would be interested in reviewing the novel for the site.
All of Us Strangers, which is written and directed by Andrew Haigh, keeps the essence of the original novel, it updates the story for today’s audiences. Led by Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, and Claire Foy, this film looks to explore what it means to love in the 20th century, and just how much impact grief can have on one’s heart and head. So how does this film hold up to the book and is it worth your time? Continue to find out what I thought.
[Warning: spoilers from All of Us Strangers are below!]
The ghost of Adam’s past comes back to haunt him
Adam (Andrew Scott) is lonely in every sense of the word. Isolated from the world in his apartment, he works as a screenwriter and lacks human interaction or companionship. When the audience first meets him, Adam’s only source of connection comes in the form of Harry (Paul Mescal), a neighbor who flirts with Adam drunkenly one night.
Having caught him staring, Harry believes there to be a mutual interest. Harris is, however, rejected by Adam at this first interaction. But this is a romance-fantasy film, and it isn’t the end of their story.
Adam does eventually reciprocate interest in Harry, but it isn’t until after his world is turned completely upside down. Having lost his parents at a young age, Adam has been lost. He is stumbling through life with the weight of his grief weighing heavy on his shoulders.
But life has a gift in store for him, for when he visits his childhood home one day, he discovers that his parents aren’t as dead as he previously thought. How can it be that his mother (Claire Foy) and father (Jamie Bell) are alive once again? Not only that, the vestiges living in the home haven’t aged a day, still appearing as they did when they passed.
Usually when your ghosts come back to haunt you, it’s for something negative. However, Adam’s parents don’t appear to be nefarious. Instead, their reappearance serves to heal Adam, allowing him to reflect on the life he’s lived and how much the world has changed since he lost them at the age of 12.
However, if he dwells too long on the past, there’s a good chance he might never leave the comfort of his parents. While I would rather not spoil the ending, it’s worth knowing that All of Us Strangers provides a satisfying, heartbreaking, and healing ending. Like life, not everything in this film is answered, but the message is delivered beautifully and haunts you long after the credits roll.
Andrew Scott & Claire Foy give career high performances
All of Us Strangers is a case study of healing and releasing grief through acceptance, with a supernatural spin to better sell the point. This film also speaks of the dangers of looking back and holding on to something that will consume us if we allow it. I think every single person has lost something or someone that has impacted their lives in drastic ways.
This doesn’t necessarily mean loss through death, although that is one of the easiest ways to speak about the topic. This film discusses this universal subject wonderfully, with a story that touches on the beauty and the terror of loss. I was blown away by the delivery, which tackles these topics with grace and love, without feeling preachy or judgmental in any way.
Selling this message is Andrew Scott as Adam, who makes this film what it is. With a small cast, Scott is most definitely the main character of All of Us Strangers, connecting the two halves of the story into a cohesive exploration of grief.
Adam is lost in the present, because of the ghosts of his past, which means that when we meet him, he’s a complete mess. Scott’s performance is impeccable as the character transitions from a lost boy in a man’s body, to a full-realized adult who has more autonomy over his life at the end.
Fans of Sherlock or Fleabag are already familiar with Scott’s acting abilities, which are amazing in everything he’s in. You can feel that he gives 100 percent of himself in every performance he does, which remains consistent for this film as well. However, he’s not alone in the talent department of this film. All of Us Strangers has an exceptional cast, albeit there are only four main actors throughout the film.
While both Paul Mescal and Jamie Bell are great in their respective roles, Claire Foy joins Andrew Scott in a league above. These two bring the emotion of a mother stuck in the past and a gay son living in the present. There are quite a few scenes between the two that brought me to tears.
Growing up gay, I had some similar experiences with some of my family, expressing fear of exploring a lifestyle that wasn’t accepted during their time. So seeing that play out on screen was heart-wrenching and truly reflective of this type of interaction. Foy and Scott delivered career-top performances in these scenes together, which helped heal me along with them.
All of Us Strangers’ few issues outweighed by the positives
All of Us Strangers turned out to be one of my top films of the year, with stellar writing and direction, along with the acting from everyone on screen. However, the film does suffer just a bit from some pacing issues. Some bits are slow and move even slower, which comes when films are human pieces. We’re supposed to sit with them and their circumstances.
When Adam and his mother are sitting at a table talking about him being gay, we’re sitting there with them. We’re a part of that intimate moment. As we know in real life, some moments like that move at a snail’s pace. So it makes sense that the pacing of the film would reflect that. While that wasn’t something that bothered me, it definitely bored others I’ve spoken with, so it’s something worth noting here.
Final thoughts on All of Us Strangers
Overall, All of Us Strangers is not only one of the best films of 2023 for me, but quite possibly one of my favorite films to date. The film is almost nothing like the book. But it is so much better for it. Changing the main couple from straight to queer allowed for a different relationship with the main character’s parents, one that feels more applicable in today’s society. And making that change also doesn’t inherently alienate anyone from connecting to the characters and the relationships.
All of Us Strangers also takes the premise of Strangers and improves upon it. Instead of a story of revenge, the film sticks with the tale of love, both romantic and familial. This changes the story drastically from that of horror to something more easily digestible for the general audience.
The messages in this film are universal, in a package that is as beautiful as it is haunting. All of Us Strangers ends the year on a high for queer media, which took a front seat in 2023 instead of waiting on the sidelines. I hope this trend continues in 2024 and beyond, as we move into a cinematic landscape that is more representative of all people from every walk of life.
All of Us Strangers is currently playing in theaters. Do you plan to see this film soon? Or have you already? What did you think of it? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.