Review: Romantic drama 'All My Life' never understands its characters
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Marc Meyers’s melodramatic weepie “All My Live” had all the ingredients to be a semi-decent Nicholas Sparks knockoff. Considering the inspirational true story - a couple was forced to accelerate their wedding following a terminal diagnosis - you’d be amazed at the lack of poignancy displayed. The real life relationship between Jennifer Carter and Solomon Chau deserved a cinematic adaptation with an emphasis on doing the most with the time you have, where instead this hastily made romantic flick is one giant blunder.
Serious medical conversations and diagnosis are shown off-camera, the magic and spark of what made Jennifer and Solomon fall in love is missing, and there’s about fifteen different characters who don’t have personality traits beyond nodding their heads in agreement. It’s hard to find a connection with the leads when it feels like we don’t even get to know them. Meyer is hoping you’ll see past a dozen loosely defined subplots (at one point, a character mentions in passing how their father died of cancer and then proceeds to never talk about it again) and embrace what these two love birds were fighting for. Except it’s not that easy. When a main character gets hit with a life altering diagnosis, that usually becomes a major focus of the movie. Not only does “All My Life” fail to acknowledge the tough, hard to stomach, subjects it practically forgets about them.
At least Jessice Rothe and Harry Shum Jr - portraying Jenn and Sol respectively - play into the emotional core of the narrative, but their painful lack of chemistry doesn’t do “All My Life” any favors. We first meet the two inside a sports bar and their flirtatious charm is a clear indicator they’ll be soulmates. But rather than pump the brakes, offer insight into their relationship dynamics and, I dunno, breathe, “All My Life” pushes the viewer through several montages (including a flashy marriage proposal) that eventually gets us to Sol’s liver cancer diagnosis. Though Jenn and Sol decide to put their wedding on hold, their pals rally to give them a beautiful ceremony. Audiences won’t be surprised to know where the film goes next.
In order for “All My Life” to gel, the casting of the leads is paramount. If folks don’t believe the main relationship, why try? Rothe and Shum Jr. have bright careers ahead of them, but their love language never syncs in the rushed storyline (and something is wrong if the wedding doesn’t sucker punch you with emotions). Meyer struggles with helping the viewer understand why Jenn and Sol love each other. Aside from basic narrative backstories (he likes to cook, and she’s getting her masters in psychology etc.) - “All My Love” never understands the characters as people.
To be fair, screenwriter Todd Rosenberg keeps the first half hour moving at a brisk pace, but those narrative flukes disrupt the foundation to Jenn and Sol’s relationship. Especially as they go from kissing on the first date to moving in together to getting engaged in a span of (checks watch) forty minutes. The decision to keep Sol’s inevitable diagnosis until 45 minutes into the film is a head scratcher, and even when he does get sick there’s minimal proof beyond an occasional doctor visit or muscle cramp. That “All My Live” barely cracks the 90 minute marker indicates more time could have been spent developing the characters and understanding Sol’s internal struggles.
“All My Life” is a harmless romance that needed a buffer or additional scenes to filter out nonsense (I’m convinced singer Keale Settle was cast for her vocals and not acting chops because she’s playing an underwritten character). But as a story about a couple facing impossible odds and unthinkable circumstances, there’s not enough here to keep audiences invested in the outcome they already know is coming.
ALL MY LIFE opens in theaters Friday, December 4th and will debut on PVOD later this month.
COVID-19: Here at TheOnlyCritic.com, we’re committed to covering theatrical releases, but there’s still inherent risks in regards to going inside movie theaters. Please make sure you look up your local theaters COVID-19 guidelines and procedures before purchasing a ticket, and if you don’t feel comfortable going into a theater, please don’t. A positive review of an exclusive theatrical release is not an endorsement to put your health and safety at risk. In most cases, critics receive digital screeners or are invited to socially distanced press screenings, which defers heavily from what you might experience.