Released: 19th November
Seen: 22nd November
In the romance genre there is an interesting variation that I will lovingly refer to as the “Oops, cancer” film. We’ve seen the story play out before numerous times, boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, either girl or boy gets terminal cancer in a way that’s handled with all the grace of the breast cancer reveal in The Room. Recent saccharine films with this story include I Still Believe, a film that was more about preaching the word of god than telling a story about a couple in love going against a powerful disease, and Irreplaceable You, which took the “Oops, cancer” moment and used it as a jumping off point for a film about a dying wife trying to set her husband up with someone to look after him when she’s gone. The films made with this “Oops, cancer” reveal currently take up a solid quarter of the lifetime TV movie schedule. It’s also a film trope that lives and dies on the charm and liability of its leads… so, how does All My Life fare? Better than most, but it still has problems.
All My Life follows the romance between Jennifer Carter (Jessica Rothe) and Solomon “Sol” Chau (Harry Shum Jr). Things seem to be going well for them, they have a sweet little series of dates where we learn that Sol works with digital media and is also a wannabe-chef and Jennifer does other things that’ll surely be interesting at some point but let’s not worry about that right now. They move in together in order for Sol to have to worry less about finances, which was the only reason Sol has his current job. Sol eventually quits his current job and takes up a dream job as a chef and proposes to Jennifer… and then Oops, liver cancer, the young couple must now try to deal with getting Sol through his treatment and figuring out how to get a wedding sorted out.
Much like I Still Believe, All My Life is also based on a very real story of the very real Jennifer Carter and Solomon Chau. This movie is inspired by several articles about the couple who were married four months before Solomon passed. The story is tragic and your heart can’t help but go out for them both so please remember that my comments are about this movie and how it handles this story, not the actual people who it’s based on.
In All My Life‘s favour is that the leads are genuinely charming with some amazing chemistry. Jessica Rothe shows the same addictive charm that made Happy Death Day so easy to enjoy and Harry Shum Jr just exudes an adorkable sweetness that anyone who watched Glee knows well. Together they just work so well, little scenes of them brushing their teeth or going for a run are filled with a playful back and forth that makes the couple relatively easy to root for, for the most part.
All My Life definitely leans more on how everything is impacting Jennifer, we get many more shots of her trying to cope with the trauma of the cancer diagnosis…. You know, Sol’s diagnosis. He doesn’t get nearly as much time to really show how this impacts him and when he does, he’s basically told to suck it up and be strong because he made a deal with Jennifer that he would step up when it matters. I don’t know if this is based on reality or something the writers made up, but it’s not played well.
Sol almost feels like he’s a prop for a decent chunk of the film, he and his cancer are there purely for plot purposes (almost like there was only one person available for interviews and the writers didn’t bother to work on how to portray the person they couldn’t talk to). He’s framed in the background, he’s off cooking, he’s following Jennifer around but for the most part he’s not the important character. The main reason we care about him is that Harry Shum Jr is such a good actor that he’s able to get some serious sympathy going with a single look. Seriously, there’s scenes where he’s in the background just mentally going through a diagnosis and his face going from anger to almost overwhelming depression is just incredible acting.
The editing of All My Life also feels a little bit odd, like they were trying their best to keep everything to 90 minutes and didn’t want to give any moments a chance to breathe or dive into the incidental details. It’s showing you the absolute bare minimum required to tell the story, you only see one cancer treatment, one scan, one trip to the hospital, one Thanksgiving, maybe two days at the restaurant. Just the bare minimum so everyone knows the details, but the impact of them can’t sink in properly, they cut a scene the second a line of dialogue is finished and move on. Everything is handled like we’re in a hurry because there just isn’t enough time to try and let things have any real impact.
There are still some things to genuinely praise about All My Life beyond the chemistry of the leads. Hell, there’s the fact that we have a romance film with an interracial couple and an Asian man in the lead role, a thing that shouldn’t be a big deal but it kind of is (Name 5 other films that fit that description… I rest my case right there). The cast in general are all on their A-game and manage to make the material work better than it has any right to. Keala Settle sings a cover version of a Pat Benatar song and that’s always nice… uh… Oh, there’s an adorable puppy that’s in about 3 scenes of the film (it kinda feels like they forgot to have the dog on set at several points, since the dog is meant to be owned by the two leads but is somehow never in their apartment).
On the whole, All My Life is a film that leans heavily on the charm of its leads to tell a familiar story. Bare bones as it comes, it’s a decent enough movie with moments that’ll make you smile. If nothing else, I hope this film is the start of a lot more romantic leads for Harry Shum Jr and a lot more non-horror work from Jessica Rothe because without those two in the lead, I don’t wanna know what this film would be like.