Review: Director Andrew Haigh's "All of Us Strangers"
This image released by Searchlight Pictures shows Andrew Scott in a scene from "All of Us Strangers." (Searchlight Pictures via AP)

Andrew Scott plays a writer trying to write something about his dead parents in Andrew Haigh's transcendent drama "All of Us Strangers." His parents' death is not recent – they died when he was 12. Not that one ever really gets over that kind of loss. But we meet Adam at a moment where he is not just thinking about them but visiting them in his childhood home, where they are preparing for Christmas. Just in case it wasn't sad enough already.

"All of Us Strangers" will probably make you cry. Maybe even weep. And while there are some twists along the way, it never feels emotionally manipulative or unearned. In fact, it's a rather authentic and cathartic experience — a deeply felt journey of acceptance, love and forgiveness.

The most calculated flex of the movie is actually just in casting Scott, also known as "the hot priest" from "Fleabag," opposite Paul Mescal, "the hot guy from 'Normal People'" (and the sad, but still hot, dad from "Aftersun"). It's the kind of pairing that seems designed to make the internet explode.

Thankfully, they have the kind of talent and chemistry that makes you immediately forget the memes and just submit to their delicate romance, which grows and runs parallel to Adam's increasingly vulnerable visits home.

Adam and Harry seem to be the only residents of a luxury high-rise in London, the kind that was built before units were sold and now it feels a little desolate and even haunted, not unlike them. Adam has to practically force himself out of his apartment one night when the fire alarm rings.

Their first meeting is not a cute one. Harry shows up at Adam's door, bottle of booze in hand. He's very drunk and trying, poorly, to hide his sadness as he essentially offers himself up. Adam declines, but they soon get another, more sober chance to connect and start that beautiful, awkward dance of getting to know one another. Haigh films their growing intimacy tenderly and you root for them to save one another, so to speak.

This relationship is compelling in and of itself, but it also gives Adam a chance to talk about what he couldn't talk about with his parents (Dad is Jamie Bell and Mum is Claire Foy) when they were alive. It was, as the styling and musical cues makes unambiguous, the 1980s in the suburbs. Loving as they were, they were also products of their time and more fearful of social stigmas and AIDS than the consequences of not fully accepting their son for who he is.

In one particularly devastating conversation, Dad apologizes to Adam for not coming into his room when he was crying. One could see this making a good double feature with "The Iron Claw," in films that make the undeniable case for fathers being more affectionate with their sons in very different ways.

It's quite the Christmas tearjerker but also provides moments of levity and joy and fun, with both Mum and Dad and Harry. The most authentically sad stories aren't exclusively sad, after all. Haigh dares audiences to meet "All of Us Strangers" on its own astral plane as we whiplash between past and present in a dreamy 35mm haze of nightclubs and '80s sweaters.

Things aren't wrapped up in a sitcom bow, either. These wounds are still very much open, but perhaps now more likely to turn to scars than to fester.

"All of Us Strangers," a Searchlight Pictures release in select theaters Friday, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for "language, some drug use and sexual content." Running time: 105 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

Lindsey Bahr is an AP film writer


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