‘All My Life’ Tells a Heartbreaking Tale of True Love Struck by a Painful Reality
True love is real, but that rarely means you will get a fairy tale ending. “All My Life” begins with the same kind of lively spirit and daydream feel of many romantic dramas, it even borders on being a rom-com. But this is not a work of fiction, it is based on the true story of Jennifer Carter and Solomon Chau, two young Americans who met and fell in love like any two other professionals in 2015. They soon face a major challenge that goes beyond what the typical date movie throws at young romantics. This is not a story about cheating or having to debate career choices. Our best laid plans can easily be overturned by something as simple and jarring as disease.
It all begins with a simple walk into a sports bar. Jenn (Jessica Rothe) and some girlfriends are blowing off steam when she catches the eye of Solomon or “Sol” (Harry Shum Jr.). Jenn is a college student working on her masters in psychology and Sol is a digital marketing analyst whose real passion is cooking. Your typical movie courtship ensues with cute flirtations, corny pick-up lines and the required moving in together in a surprisingly affordable apartment. Sol even proposes to Jenn in the only fashionable way for millennials: With singing via a choreographed crowd of friends and volunteers. All the while Jenn pushes Sol to chase his real dreams and cook professionally. When he impresses the right people he quickly lands a restaurant job. Everything seems perfect and a wedding date is set. Then Sol feels ill and has an episode. A visit to the doctor reveals he has cancer. Suddenly, the fairy tale romance realizes there won’t be much time left. “I was so inspired by this real life couple,” Rothe told Entertainment Voice. “I loved the friendship story that was interwoven. They didn’t just marry their soul mate, but their best friend…Sol’s life, even if it was shorter than it should have been, had joy. Jenn I loved for her unwillingness to stop fighting. She was protective of this man she loved more than life itself. I related to it on a personal level in that way.”
There is something curiously subversive about “All My Life.” Director Marc Meyers stays loyal to the subdued colors and suburban designs of your average romantic comedy, but by the second and third acts there’s not much that’s funny about this movie. The screenplay by Todd Rosenberg transforms into a moving parable about how degrees and perfect planning can suddenly mean very little when faced with cruel reality. If there is anything the year 2020 has taught us with its pandemic and elections, it’s that we should appreciate every moment of health and security. Happiness can be as simple as being able to hug a loved one, knowing they will still be here the next day. Because “All My Life” is based on a true story, Meyers and Rosenberg have little room for sappy resolutions or shocking twists that save the day. After Sol is diagnosed the narrative becomes solely about how he and Jenn will live together until the inevitable.
In another familiar touch, Jenn and Sol are surrounded by a great support system in their friends. If there is one uplifting heart-tugger in the story, it’s how friends like Megan (Marielle Scott) and Amanda (Chrissie Fit) come together to raise money to cover the expenses of Jenn and Sol’s wedding. Keala Settle also has a small but endearing role as a barista who also lends the couple support. Earlier someone like Jenn’s cousin, Gigi (Ever Carradine), tastes Sol’s cooking and likes it so much she hires him at her restaurant. “All My Life” is about love on two levels, first between romantic partners and second between friends. It lacks cynicism in its view of bonds between people. There can be disappointments, of course. Sol’s friend Dave (Jay Pharoah) sticks around while another, Kyle (Kyle Allen), can’t handle the stress of watching his friend await death. While this is all set in the picture-perfect landscapes of romantic movies, the moods are more raw. It never gets as emotionally searing as “Ordinary Love” from earlier this year, about a middle-aged Irish couple grappling with a cancer diagnosis, but it does have some welcome honesty. When Sol undergoes chemotherapy he can become so frightened and tired, he snaps at Jenn and admits part of him wishes he could face it alone. “I read the script two or three days before my own mother passed away,” said Settle about her own introduction to the story. “We had a very complicated relationship and I was not there when she passed away. So this was an opportunity to celebrate Jenn and Sol’s life and their union, their relationship and their life. It was a way to honor my own mother in my own right, because I didn’t get to be there and say, ‘hey I love, I thank you.’”
A sense of solidarity is felt all throughout the movie because as the story progresses, the cutesy or buddy-like personalities surrounding Jenn and Sol take on the aspects of a team. In the typical date movie side characters are meant to offer comic relief, or a Greek chorus to whatever is going on with the main plot. “This is a story about Jenn and Sol but also about the community around them,” said Kyle Allen. “I looked at how not everyone can deal with loss. My character is unable to…I’ve lost close friends but it was always very sudden. I never knew beforehand and never had a way to have last words with them. For me I deeply felt for the story by empathizing. Sometimes you go out of your way to connect to a script, sometimes you just connect.”
Meyers also has a way of finding the romantic in the everyday. What happens to Jenn and Sol’s relationship feels even more heartbreaking because of how relatable the two characters can be. The script never exaggerates reality or pumps up their journey with cheap developments. Sol wants to be a chef and Jenn pushes him while their apartment life is comfortably mundane. Real romance can mean simply finding someone you absolutely connect with in the right ways. Even when Sol becomes ill and undergoes the after effects of chemo, the scenes are done with a down to earth simplicity. “I was a mess reading the script,” said Marielle Scott. “I think the guy sitting next to me gave me his beverage napkin (laughs). It really affected me. I immediately bought the internet wifi on the plane and did a deep dive into Sol and Jenn’s story. It is a love story but it’s about two real people who are not jetting off to Paris or getting on a hot air balloon. It’s just real, every day truth.”
“Since Covid and lockdown my friends so much more to me,” said Ever Carradine about the film’s resonance. “I miss camaraderie and going out to dinner. This film sets a good foundation that if you have a strong foundation of love and support you can pull through.” Indeed, “All My Life” might have stood out for its story any other year, but in 2020 it has a particular relevance. Illness is now a sudden reality across much of the country, striking without prejudice and requiring urgent safety measures. Jenn and Sol’s love story can become a melancholic metaphor for how life can change in an instant by forces completely out of our control. No one could have predicted at the beginning of the year just how it would end.
“All My Life” proceeds towards its bittersweet finale with all it could ever promise teary-eyed romantics including a wedding that has a dreamlike, floaty tone. The difference is the actual closing moments are inspiring in a different kind of way, with a much deeper meaning. It is not a spoiler to say Sol does not survive. Yet Meyers avoids being exploitative. He does not go for some bombastic, melodramatic ending. He goes for something more touching and quiet. Life is a learning process where we take many steps and make it through hurdles and painful challenges. This movie is designed to tug at your heart-strings and surely will be the choice of many dates willing to risk seeing it in open venues, but it is not without a deeper merit. We live to see another day and yet rarely stop to think of how grateful we should be for it.
“All My Life” releases Dec. 4 in select cities.