‘All of Us Strangers’ Review: A Soul Longing for the Impossible

Lonely suburban existence is filmmaker catnip, but urban apartment life — especially in new, soundproof buildings — can be just as isolating, maybe more. High in a box in the sky, it’s easy to fancy yourself the last person on earth.

Such is the sort of flat in which Adam (Andrew Scott), the dreamer at the center of “All of Us Strangers,” has chosen to dwell, positioned on the outskirts of London. Alone, forlornly attempting to write a screenplay and wearing a profoundly ugly sweater, he mostly lies on the couch watching TV and eating crisps. From his window he can stare at the skyline. But he is thoroughly apart from the city in the way he’s felt apart from everything his whole life. You get the sense that now, in early middle age, he’s most secure on the outside looking in. Adam is gay; his childhood was tragic; he’s a writer, the kind of person his father always said knew less about the world than anyone else. Loneliness comes naturally to him.

“All of Us Strangers,” written and directed by Andrew Haigh, is loosely based on the Japanese writer Taichi Yamada’s spare novel “Strangers,” about a divorced writer who meets a woman in his building. But Haigh’s work (including “Weekend” and the TV series “Looking”) has often explored the intimate emotional landscape of queer men, and he remolded Yamada’s story into something less chilly, much slipperier, much closer to his own heartbeat.

Haigh spends the first half-hour making us wonder what kind of a film we’re even watching. There are moments when it seems like Adam isn’t just figuratively but actually the last man on earth. But one night, he meets Harry (Paul Mescal, mustachioed), who knocks on his door with whiskey bottle in hand. They’re apparently the only two people living in this strange building. Adam is polite but awkward, and doesn’t let him in. He is comfortable with his solitude — or too scared of what it might mean to disrupt it. But Adam is also trying to write about his childhood (“EXT SUBURBAN HOUSE 1987,” he types) and, almost without thinking, he finds himself on a train headed to the suburbs.

There, time twists, folding in on itself, and when he returns to his apartment, his drab life starts to gain dimension. Tentatively at first, then passionately, he falls for Harry, slowly peeling back layers of himself that have scarred over. Could life be different? Could unlocking his heart be worth the risk? And what would his parents say if they could see him now?

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