After all this time, ‘All Too Well’ is still beloved by fans of Taylor. The popularity of the song resulted in the original ten-minute version of the song and a short film to be released with the re-recorded version of Red, Taylor’s fourth studio album that was originally released in 2012.
It’s time to revisit my review of this emotional and dramatic song and film as Red has finally achieved its long awaited deserving Grammy for best video for All Too Well, the 10 minute version at the 2023 Grammy Awards, marking her 12th Grammy award.
For the short film, its writer, director, and composer Taylor Swift cast 20-year-old Sadie Stink (Stranger Things) and one of my favourite actors Dylan O’Brian (Teen Wolf, Maze Runner) as a once happy couple referred to as Him and Her, as they begin to fall in love to when things fall apart, and the girl’s journey to moving on with her life. Stink and O’Brian fully immerse themselves into their characters of Him and Her, blurring the lines between the reality and fiction of the film.
It makes All Too Well. a beautifully tragic, enthralling, and poignant representation of the anxiety, trauma and sense of loss experienced by Her in the relationship portrayed in All Too Well, in a way it gives Swift a chance to visually and emotionally invite people to experience the high and lows of her relationship with a 29-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal when she was only 20. The same ages as Sink and O’Brian respectively in All Too Well.
The 15-minute film version of the song is broken down into seven chapters. Chapters include “An Upstate Escape”, “The First Crack in The Glass”, “Are You Real?”, “The Breaking Point”, “The Reeling”, “The Remembering” and the epilogue “Thirteen Years Gone”. Each chapter represents a different section of the song and a period in the couple’s relationship.
Shot on 35mm film, it all begins with their ‘upstate escape’ surrounded by the forest and the lake. They’re romantic and carefree as they enjoy their outdoor adventure. The whole chapter is extremely romantic, innocent, and heartfelt, it’ll leave you grinning with how bittersweet that scene is to watch, as song fans know it’ll soon fall apart. Perhaps the autumn inspired setting for their trip resembles their relationship. It starts off after a happy summer but soon the leaves fall, and the bleak winter is soon to come, much like what happens to the couple’s relationship once they return from their trip.
All too well – the ten-minute version – plays throughout the film. In the main scene of dialogue in the film, Him essentially gaslights his girlfriend, Her, into thinking she’s crazy for getting upset when he dropped her hand at a dinner party where she felt intimidated because all his friends were older. ‘Him’ is then making the situation out to be her fault, acting as though he is forgiving her for something she did.
The music seamlessly stops, as the aforementioned argument scene between ‘Him and ‘Her’ begins. It’s the lack of music in the background of their argument – only the sound of ‘Her’ washing dishes and their voices can be heard – that helps to build the increasing dramatic tension between them during their explosive argument. After the argument, the music starts to build almost as if Swift’s lyrics show the singer readying herself to deal with the argument’s aftermath and the fall out that’s going to eventually cause for the relationship.
Sadie and Dylan deserve an Oscar for their portrayal as the feuding couple, which weighs heavily on its stark poignant portrayal of gaslighting and ignoring someone’s red flags as Her chooses to stay and love the good things she thinks she can still see in Him.
When the relationship falls apart, my heart breaks for Sadie’s character ‘Her’ as she cries a ballad in her bed, ignoring calls from ‘Him.’ It’s realistic yet emotionally enthralling to watch as ‘Her’ is still waiting for her boyfriend to come, in a call back to when she was with ‘Him,’ and he didn’t attend her 21st birthday party. You can almost feel the pain that ‘Her’ and Swift must have felt through the screen. Swift’s directing isn’t just about making you watch, it’s about making you feel.
It’s a seamless heartfelt transition as the epilogue is a flash forward to ‘Thirteen Years Gone’ from the girl’s heartbreak as the older version is played by a red-haired Taylor Swift. The girl has now become a poised, wise author, selling out bookshops as she reads from her new book ‘All too well’ while the guy watches on outside, still wearing that red scarf she left at his sister’s house.
The ending provides an optimistic hopeful ending that tugs at the heartstrings as the short film’s protagonist has never forgotten her experience, but it didn’t prevent her from learning from it and fulfilling her dream of writing the book, something that ‘Her’ was seen working on in frustration amidst the whirlwind of her doomed relationship, thirteen years earlier.
Taylor’s brief cameo represents her personal journey of finding her own voice again and coming out on the other side of all the romantic and professional heartbreak. This represents Taylor owning her music on her own terms after all the pain she went through when her masters were sold from under her.
The longer ten-minute version of ‘All Too Well’ only increased in its hauntingly beautiful poetic nature, as we get to see more sides of the narrating female lead and her relationship with him in the song. Taylor allows fans to delve deeper into the fictional heart-breaking world of the beloved track 5 song, and fully experience the emotions and thoughts of the song and her own heartbreak over the relationship that inspired the song and the film.
All Too Well marks Swift’s first venture into writing and directing a film. It was no surprise that her first short film would go down a hit, amassing 61 million views to date, after the potential she has shown in her emotionally crafted music videos, filled with entertaining narratives, meaningful motifs and evocative acting related to her lyrics.
Thanks to Taylor, we can feel that we were there, it was rare, and we’ll be sure to remember this film, all too well. Her superhuman gift for storytelling, both lyrically and visually, has never been more clear, insightful, and tugging at our minds and hearts, as it is in her first short film, and what a short film it is.
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