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‘All That We Love’ Review: Margaret Cho Grieves Her Dead Dog in Midlife Crisis Coming-of-Age Drama


‘All That We Love’ Review: Margaret Cho Grieves Her Dead Dog in Midlife Crisis Coming-of-Age Drama

All That We Love” is not, at first brush, a lovable film. Or perhaps the midlife crisis meets coming-of-age drama led by Margaret Cho is too lovable and therefore falls flat for its earnestness?

Cho stars as Emma, an empty nester who realizes just how alone she truly is after the death of her family dog Tanner. Emma is frustrated at work, faced with the return of her ex-husband Andy (Kenneth Choi), and forced to confront the fact that her daughter Maggie (Alice Lee) is relocating to Australia with her boyfriend (Devon Bostick). Basically, Emma is having a bad time. The only bright spot in Emma’s social circle, it seems, is her friendship with Stan (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who is also dealing with a loss of his own…and a crisis reaction that includes purchasing a motorcycle.

'Hit Man' from left: Austin Amelio, Sanjay Rao, Retta, 2023. ph: Brian Roedel / © Netflix / courtesy Everett Collection

'Practical Magic'

As Stan comforts Emma, she begins to reevaluate the (non-canine) relationships in her life. But there is no enthusiasm on any front. During an early scene, Ferguson’s character Stan encourages what seems like both Emma and Cho in real life to “perk up,” adding, “We’re here. If we’re doing this, we’re doing this.” And that seems to set the tone for the making of this struggling feature that tries to capture the banality of midlife by mirroring its mundanity. Do we need to be reminded of the dullness of the day-to-day by a dull film? Not necessarily, but “All That We Love” gets points for trying — and with a tight running time that doesn’t outstay its welcome.

“All That We Love” premiered at the 2024 Tribeca Festival and is helmed by writer/director Yen Tan. The cast is impressive for the feature, with Cho having a definitive career moment that places her outside of her regular stand-up comedy and bit roles in comedy series and films.

Cho brought her signature comedic flair with a dash of dramatic elements to “Fire Island.” While “All That We Love” is not the ideal follow-up role, Cho can do heartfelt drama, elevating a script that director Tan co-wrote with Clay Liford that doesn’t give Cho as Emma enough to do. The line readings feel more deadpan, which leaves Cho fans waiting for the punchlines we’ve come to expect.

Yet there are still oddly funny moments, like Emma’s work colleague Kayla (Missi Pyle) asking to be fired if there were more layoffs. Emma’s ex Andy is living with his noodle-snorting (actually) influencer sister Raven (Atsuko Okatsuka), and that obscurity also seems like an in-joke for the cast. The tone isn’t always sure of itself, but maybe that is the point: Are we supposed to be laughing? Are we laughing with them or at them? And that awkwardness is not resolved, nor leaned into enough to make it clear this is a deliberate stylistic choice.

Even Emma’s relationship with her former alcoholic ex-husband Andy seems implausible. Andy exudes a rugged, cool guy appeal that’s too drastic of a difference from Emma’s high-strungness, and the script seems to hide most of Emma’s character development behind the one-note plotline of grief. We get that Emma’s deceased dog Tanner was symbolic of the last bit of conventional family she has left, or at least the embodiment of an era she still hopes to return to. (And don’t worry, Tanner doesn’t get a “John Wick” moment onscreen.) But when Emma opts to adopt an adorable terrier named Sal, and soon becomes frustrated with parenting a pup once more, the “growth” we’re supposed to be witnessing seems all too clichéd. Sure, Sal eventually brings Emma “back to life” emotionally, or whatever, but do we believe it? Still, Cho, in her performance, makes the case that we should.

The final sequence of Emma spreading Tanner’s ashes to finally, fully letting go, should be cathartic. It’s not exactly that, though the film finds some grace notes in Emma’s search for redemption. The ghost of Tanner makes a brief appearance, suggestive of a more compelling movie. But watching Cho, perhaps on the same search as the filmmakers — for profundity, for catharsis — is always an entertaining experience, and a reminder of her curiosity as an actor more than the sum of her stand-up parts.

Rating: C+

“All That We Love” premiered at the 2024 Tribeca Festival. The film is currently seeking distribution with Creative Artists Agency handling sales.

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