All My Life, 2020.
Directed by Marc Meyers.
Starring Jessica Rothe, Harry Shum Jr., Michael Masini, Chrissie Fit, Greg Vrotsos, Ever Carradine, Marielle Scott, Jay Pharoah, Kyle Allen, Keala Settle, Josh Brener, and Jon Rudnitsky.
A couple’s wedding plans are thrown off course when the groom is diagnosed with liver cancer.
Any time a modern-day mainstream romance bringing to life a true story of heartbreak announces itself as a tearjerker where one of the lovebirds falls ill with a terminal illness, I think I speak for most critics appropriately when I say that we are conditioned to fear the worst; something cloying, saccharine, and mawkish, that leaves no stone unturned in its emotional manipulation. So with that in mind, it’s a pleasant surprise to report All My Life has some restraint when it comes to the inevitable sadness, and more importantly, actual respect in telling the story of these real people.
Perhaps that has something to do with Director Marc Meyers, who seems to almost be as busy as Steve McQueen, having already released two movies earlier this year (We Summon the Darkness and Human Capital). Neither of those movies suggested he would be interested in tackling a romance, but if you bring enough human authenticity to any project it’s bound to go over well. It’s the exact reason his look at the high school senior days of Jeffrey Dahmer in My Friend Dahmer worked (and you should absolutely check that movie out if you have any interest in the subject); he is not concerned with the elements people expect from these stories but rather something that feels sincere.
There is also an ear-to-the-ground level of awareness in casting Jessica Rothe as one half of the relationship, previously breaking out onto the scene with the Happy Death Day movies proving herself to be magnetic, bubbly, charming, and radiant in personality. Some may view taking a role in a movie like All My Life as a step backward in her young career, but the gamble pays off as she is just as winningly likable here under a different set of circumstances. She takes the simplest of scenes such as bartering rooming arrangements or synchronized teeth brushing and injects them with a cutesy pulse like a born Hollywood star. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I would happily watch more romantic comedies and actually look forward to them if they starred Jessica Rothe.
She’s not the only gem here as Harry Shum Jr. makes for a talented discovery (he doesn’t seem to have done much aside from supporting roles in my sphere of experience), playing the handsomely flirtatious Sol who quickly wins Jennifer over in a bar meet-cute. Unfortunately, the path of the story doesn’t give Jennifer much to do aside from shape Solomon into a more dream chasing and driven person. His desire is to be a chef, something he has pretty much given up on at the start of the narrative, settling for a soul-crushing job in digital marketing. Jennifer uses Thanksgiving to reignite his spark for cooking and family connections to get Sol’s foot in the door, all as true love continues to blossom in ways that feel condensed for time, but believable due to the chemistry between them.
As marriage ceremony plans are underway, a tumor is found inside Sol’s liver upending what is a highly expensive endeavor, placing those funds into hospital bills. Obviously, All My Life seems like the kind of film where Sol’s death is all but guaranteed, but there is some second-guessing as Marc Meyers doesn’t seem to be interested in telling a story about that fate. Instead, the filmmaker wisely sticks to a respectable balance between the struggles and medicinal side effects with the lovebirds pushing forward with fundraisers to have their wedding just in case things take another turn for the worse.
There’s a devastating scene where Sol loses his sense of taste, which initially appears to be the worst thing that could ever happen to an aspiring chef. Beautifully, Jennifer reminds him that it could have been worse; Sol could have lost his ability to see her, hear her, or feel her touch. And maybe it is a cheesy scene, but it’s also a thoughtful one that cemented my recommendation of All My Life. Yes, there are subplots involving friends and family (including one close to Sol that has PTSD from recently going through an emotionally draining experience with a terminally ill father) that feel undercooked, and while the aforementioned scene is terrific it still feels like more could be done with the dynamic of Sol being a chef losing the ability to do what he loves, the central performances from Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr, and the general tone rarely make a mistake. It’s the infrequent romance about an illness that respects both the audience and its real-life subjects.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com