All My Life ’s story may have few surprises, but Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr.’s compelling chemistry effectively engages the audience nonetheless.
There are few tales as timeless as the “love story.” Since the dawn of Hollywood, audiences around the globe have packed into theaters to witness their favorite stars flirt and fall for one another amidst sumptuous set design while a sweeping score blares in the background – these are the “magical moments” that movies were made for! Whether a film lightheartedly leans into comedic conventions (like those in the “romcom” subgenre) or instead showcases star-crossed lovers (a tenet of many a “melodrama”) matters not; if we care for the characters and their captivating chemistry, we’re on board no matter what plot turns a specific story may throw our way. Simply put, it’s often engrossing enough to merely be an observing party in the cultivation of a connection between two pleasant personalities as they adventure amongst lively locales, trade witty banter, and attempt to find their way in the world, together.
Based on true events, All My Life is the latest love story to aim for the affection and attention of hopelessly romantic audiences across the world. However, this “real-life” lark continues a recent trend in the genre – following in the footsteps of films like this year’s I Still Believe and 2017’s The Big Sick – by sharing the struggles of a formerly contented couple that ultimately encounters terrible tragedy and is forced to weather newfound woes that are usually all-too-recognizable to many moviegoers. Since most of these stories feature similar twists and turns, the secret to their success is to provide an adaptation of their real-world adversity that balances the pleasures of the relationship on display and the pains endured, to make for an enthralling viewing experience in spite of the somber subject matter.
For example, although I Still Believe turned out to be an overlong and overwrought odyssey of the maudlin and mawkish variety, The Big Sick earned acclaim for its astute and authentic approach to its protagonists’ strife that didn’t sugarcoat the suffering while still delivering some droll, dark humor from time to time. All My Life finds itself in the middle of these two films, never feeling as soppy and schmaltzy as I Still Believe, but lacking the self-aware levity of The Big Sick. That being said, as an optimistic 90-minute ode to the ever-lasting euphoria evoked by living any part of your life with the one you love, it is endearingly effective in its own right.
All My Life charts the courtship of Jennifer “Jenn” Carter (Jessica Rothe, of Happy Death Day and La La Land) and Solomon “Sol” Chau (Harry Shum Jr., of Crazy Rich Asians and Step Up 2: The Streets), a Toronto couple who begin their adorable love affair with a meet-cute at a local sports bar before fully involving themselves in one another’s lives and pushing each other to fight for their dreams and experience life to the fullest. Soon, Jenn and Sol also earn the admiration of all their friends for their ceaseless commitment to their relationship, coming to symbolize the very definition of “soulmates” for any and all who know them. Eventually, the two even become enthusiastically engaged as well, but when health shocks strike, their life plans are put to rest. Despite Sol’s terminal liver cancer diagnosis, they intend to treasure whatever time they have left, and a colossal campaign is launched to help fund their dream wedding. No matter what the future holds, Jenn and Sol promise to make the most of their remaining moments, and they come to personify the potent power of true love.
All My Life certainly isn’t a “surprising” story by any means, nor will it win any awards for its innovation or intrigue, but for what it sets out to do – tell an unashamedly sentimental saga about the triumphs and troubles of a couple whose time together was tragically cut short – it certainly succeeds, in large part thanks to the amiable acting from Rothe and Shum Jr. Rothe is a fan favorite by now, most notably due to her involvement in the stupendously successful Happy Death Day franchise, and those who see All My Life expecting equally wondrous work will not at all be disappointed. Though the role of Jenn is unfortunately somewhat underwritten (What ever comes of her collegiate pursuits? Why is her father not present in her life and her wedding?), Rothe overcomes this obstacle to still imbue her character with compassion and credibility, making her feel wholly formed nonetheless. Best of all, she spectacularly sells Jenn’s undying devotion to Sol without ever breaking a sweat or forcing this fervor, letting us in to her emotions with her empathetic eyes and relying more on nonverbal displays of affection instead of mushy monologues (even if she deftly delivers all her impassioned dialogue as well). All-in-all, it’s yet another powerhouse performance from an absurdly talented actress who is aggressively on the rise.
As the other half of our primary pairing, Shum Jr. matches Rothe’s investment to the material to an incredible degree, channeling a classic movie star’s charisma and shaping Sol into a much more multidimensional man than what’s provided on the page. Again, the part is painted with broad strokes (we never learn anything about Sol’s own family, though the portrayal of his professional problems helps to flesh out his interests and intentions in life in a way that wasn’t afforded to Rothe’s Jenn), but Shum Jr.’s magnetism is mesmerizing enough to surmount these setbacks, and his compelling chemistry with Rothe similarly papers over any of the script’s shortcomings. In addition, whereas Jenn’s reactions to Sol’s diagnosis are (understandably) more manic, Shum Jr. has a far tougher task in some ways by having to still project Sol’s stoicism while silently struggling day and night, and he never falters. Even at his most vulnerable moments, Shum Jr.’s Sol can’t even find it in him to raise his voice, softly expressing his exasperation, and this pain is all too potent. In the end, it is thanks to Shum Jr.’s considerate characterization that we feel as forlorn by the film’s finale as Rothe’s Jenn, and his estimable efforts cannot be emphasized enough.
All My Life is endowed with an enormously entertaining supporting cast, but it is unfortunate that each side character is essentially asked to fill more of a stock role or stereotype than to inhabit an intricately realized individual. Naturally, one would assume this decision was made to keep the central focus on our lead couple (which is reasonable), but many of these scene stealers are so fun that it’s a shame they couldn’t earn efficient actualization. Regardless, those such as Marielle Scott’s (Lady Bird, Hulu’s A Teacher) Megan, an overly organized and endlessly eager friend of Jenn’s, and Jay Pharoah’s (Unsane, Bad Hair) Dave, a “Casanova”-esque companion of Sol’s who thinks he’s “slicker” with the ladies than he actually is, still leave large impressions in the end.
Director Marc Meyers (My Friend Dahmer, We Summon the Darkness) diverges from his horror-thriller roots to embark on this emotionally charged romantic epic, but he handles the drama deftly without ever heading into hammy histrionics, and he admirably trusts his actors to sell their scenes without being overly invasive. In his feature film debut, screenwriter Todd Rosenberg proves to be quite tactful with his balance of tone, but additional character development could have added to the substance of All My Life overall. Still, the poignancy here shows considerable promise, and his authorial voice is delightfully distinctive.
All My Life doesn’t set itself apart from other “true-life tearjerkers” in any significant way, but thanks to the passionate performances from Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr., it’s impossible to not be invested in the film in some capacity. Cliché but charming, All My Life is a romance that feels familiar while still effectively earning its audience’s emotions the whole way through.
Inspired by a true love story, All My Life is currently showing in select US cinemas.
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