All of Us Strangers: A Portrait of Gay Isolation
Andrew Scott shines in Andrew Haigh's surreal new film, a haunting story of love, grief and loneliness.
Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
In all the buzz leading up to the release of All of Us Strangers, directed and written by Andrew Haigh, it seems as if people are most intrigued by the chemistry between its lead actors, Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal. This went into overdrive after the pair were papped clubbing together in Madrid last month for Scott’s 47th birthday. On a red carpet last week, Chicken Shop Date’s Amelia Dimoldenberg asked Scott whether Mescal was a good kisser. (“Paul is a good kisser, yes,” he responded.) That same week, a photo of the pair alongside actors Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer “broke stan Twitter,” GQ “reported”.
So, for those curious, yes, the men make a cute onscreen couple. Theirs is a tender, erotic, very earnest intimacy, in a film that considers the ways in which love – and its absence – shapes us.
All of Us Strangers opens with the sun rising on a panorama of what seems to be a dystopian, futuristic city, but is in fact modern-day London. Adam (Scott) is a middle-aged writer who spends his days lying on his couch eating biscuits and watching TV (relatable). He lives in a vast apartment building that is completely deserted but for one other resident, Harry (Mescal), who, one night – unexpectedly, flirtatiously, very drunkenly – knocks on his door. Adam’s lifetime of terminal loneliness means he has the social skills of a potato, but soon enough the two become lovers. (Terrifying to think of the millions of TikTok supercuts those scenes will spawn…)
Meanwhile, Adam is struggling to find his way into a script based on the foundational event of his past: the death of his parents in a car crash when he was 11. In search of inspiration, he takes the train to his childhood home, where he encounters his father (Jamie Bell) and mother (Claire Foy), who look exactly as they did when they died, in the late ’80s.
Jamie Bell as Adam’s father. Image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.
These romance and resurrection storylines unfold simultaneously, surreally. Adam hovers between the realms of the living and the dead as he confronts the unanswered questions that have defined his life. Andrew Scott is completely charming in the lead role – unsurprising to those familiar with his supporting work in Fleabag, in certain moments of Sherlock, or even his pandemic reading of Derek Mahon’s “Everything is Going to be All Right.” His performance is filled with vulnerability and quiet resolve, best exhibited in the scenes he shares with his mother, who is terminally stuck in the past – her age and her outfit haven’t changed, nor have her views on homosexuality. Yet they bridge the gaps in their understanding of one another with an unanswerable love that is particular to mothers and their gay sons.
Haigh brings a theatrical treatment to the film: the ensemble casting, the careful staging, the dialogue. He isn’t striving for realism so much as a heightened liminal space in which anything is possible. The film is loosely based on the 1987 novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, but All of Us Strangers is not so much a ghost story as an eerie portrait of gay isolation. I was reminded of a line from journalist Michael Hobbes’ 2017 Huffington Post feature The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness: “It is still dangerously alienating to go through life as a man attracted to other men.”
All of Us Strangers, by Andrew Haigh and starring Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Claire Foy and Jamie Bell, screened as part of the Cheries-Cheris LGBTQ film festival in Paris, which runs until November 28.