‘All That We Love’ Movie Review: A Tender Look at Grief, Family, and Healing

Grief is not a finite resource. It is used in abundance as a base for art as it is an emotion that is universally felt and resonates with the populous. It affects even the hardest of souls. The grief that is usually picked apart by art is often reserved for that felt by the loss of a spouse or a family member. In All That We Love, the grief that frames director Yen Tan’s sentimental story is the loss of a dog. 

When we’re introduced to death as children, it is common to use the death of a pet to teach this fundamental part of life. That pain isn’t any less potent than when it is family who have passed away, but it acts as an introduction to the concept. For middle-aged magazine editor Emma (Margaret Cho), the grief of losing her elderly dog Tanner is soul-shaking and, in turn, reverberates through every facet of her life as the grief for Tanner works as a catalyst for mending the relationships she didn’t realize were damaged.

Relationships are the key to this story

The relationships that intertwine within the narrative of this sweet, understated dramedy include Emma’s daughter, Maggie (Alice Lee), whose relocation to Melbourne with her partner causes friction for the empty nester; ex-husband and estranged father to Maggie, Andy (Kenneth Choi), who sends a condolence card in regards to Tanner while involved with AA; and best friend Stan (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) who is dealing with their own specific type of prolonged grief by getting a full lifestyle makeover.

I have chosen to highlight these specific relationships as these were the ones that have the most emotional resonance within the film. However, Emma’s work, her friendship with colleague Kayla (Missi Pyle), along with her extended discussions with ex-sister-in-law and mukbang YouTuber Raven (Atsuko Okatsuka), while reinforcing the myriad of themes – loss and the broken heartedness that comes from it being the most pervasive – that co-writer and director Tan is trying to navigate, are whimsical distractions, detracting from the expressive power that is elicited from these more affecting relationships. 

Ex-husband Andy gets the strongest evocation in his plot line concerning a reunion with his estranged daughter, facilitated by Emma. Choi, in these moments, is the strongest emotional cog in a film that is filled with gorgeous bittersweet insights, while Emma becomes too passive, the crank that turns everyone else’s wheel. Cho plays Emma as quite reserved and cold at first, slowly warming up throughout the film as she settles into her grief. But she is the crank for this narrative machine, and it is the lives of the people around her that appear to grow, leaving Emma becoming secondary to the more interesting characters and their own dynamics. 

For example, there is strength in the lifestyle transformation that Stan undergoes after losing his spouse a few years previously in his own way of processing loss, while the reunion between Emma and her family in a diner is a beautifully constructed scene that is ripe with raw sentiment. Where Cho does find some stronger influence on the emotional pathos of the film is in collaboration with Tan’s mise en scène, as her return home from a party finds an empty dog bowl while a drunk Emma calls out for her lost canine. 

An emotional film brought forth from personal experience

It is not surprising that the film is quite emotional, as Tan writes this story from the personal experience of losing his own Tanner back in 2013. What feels all the more tragic about how this story came into existence is that Tan lost another dog during the filmmaking process, and then his husband in early 2024. The grief of all these losses is channeled into All That We Love and it makes the film all the more perfervid for it. 

All That We Love – named after the Helen Keller quote written on Andy’s condolence card – is a lovely soft dramedy whose saccharine, familiar beats never come across as cloying thanks to Tan’s deft hand keeping the tone grounded in reality. It is delicately handled, while perhaps too dramatically restrained to leave a stronger emotional presence. While we learn about death through our pets as children, we also learn it as something inevitable, that it can never be helped, and we must accept it.

All That We Love reconfigures what death can mean; that life, in all its roughness and misery, can continue. The death of family dog Tanner works as the metaphoric compost for roots to grow, his passing showing that what was thought of as dead can once again be brought back to life by the cyclical nature of our grief if we channel it into renewing familial bonds rather than letting it consume us.

All That We Loved recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Learn more about the movie at the Tribeca site for the title.

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