Back in 2011, Andrew Haigh made us all softly weep with Weekend, his exquisitely restrained study of a gay hookup yearning to be something more, thwarted by fate. In his latest, however, the British writer-director sets out to give modern gay cinema its definitive four-hanky tearjerker.
He unexpectedly embraces melodrama and a hint of the supernatural, and damn well pulls it off — this isn’t a film that tugs on your heartstrings so much as opens fire on your emotional defences.
Yet it never feels cynically manipulative, which is a credit to the humane perceptiveness of Haigh’s writing, and the pitch-perfect quartet of performances — led by a never-better Andrew Scott.
He shines as gay London screenwriter Adam, whose solitary existence in a soulless new-build tower block is pierced by the advances of lonely young neighbour Harry (Paul Mescal). But their burgeoning relationship is countered by a strange retreat into the past: on a nostalgic tour to his childhood home, Adam is surprised to find his long-dead parents (Claire Foy and Jamie Bell) seemingly alive and well, and eager to catch up with the son they never really knew.
All of Us Strangers is a ghost story that plays as aching realism. This unexpected reunion forces the family to confront the secrets and prejudices that they never did in the real world, while Adam considers his lifelong struggle with human connection, in the light of his new romance.
Haigh has that special knack of crafting highly particular characters in which the audience can nonetheless see themselves reflected: for anyone who grew up closeted from their families, expect to experience more than one cathartic shiver of recognition. But Haigh’s film is so bright and lucid and emotionally expressive that you needn’t have experienced its story to vividly live it here.
All of Us Strangers is available to watch in UK cinemas from 26 January 2024.
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