Review: ‘All That We Love,’ starring Margaret Cho, Kenneth Choi, Alice Lee, Atsuko Okatsuka, Devon Bostick, Missi Pyle and Jesse Tyler Ferguson

June 17, 2024

by Carla Hay

Margaret Cho in “All That We Love” (Photo courtesy of Ley Line Entertainment and Ten Acre Films)

“All That We Love”

Directed by Yen Tan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Austin, Texas, the comedy/drama film “All That We Love” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Asian, white and a few Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged divorcée copes with the death of her beloved dog and other changes in her personal life, such as her ex-husband moving back to the same city, and their adult daughter moving to Australia. 

Culture Audience: “All That We Love” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and realistic stories about divorced parents of adult children.

“All That We Love” is a smart and mature comedy/drama about the changes that adults go through in personal relationships, from the perspective of a neurotic, divorced mother. Margaret Cho gives a credible and impressive performance. People who are familiar with Cho as only being a comedian will be pleasantly surprised at how good her dramatic talent is too, as demonstrated in this low-key but emotionally honest movie. “All That We Love” had its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival.

Directed by Yen Tan (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Clay Liford), “All That We Love” takes place in a city that is not named, but the movie was filmed in Austin, Texas, and includes some familiar Austin landmarks. In the beginning of the movie, divorcée Emma (played by Cho) is feeling down because her beloved dog Tanner (a brown Collie) has died from cancer. Emma chose to have Tanner cremated. She plans to spread his ashes but hasn’t yet decided where.

Tanner was more than just a dog to Emma, who lives alone. She says multiple times in the movie that Tanner was her main source of comfort and “the love of my life.” There will be more upheavals in Emma’s life during the course of the story. These changes get different reactions from Emma and the people who are close to her. A great deal of the movie is how people deal with unexpected turns in their lives and how much of the past should influence their decisions about relationships.

The two most important people in Emma’s life are her impulsive daughter Maggie (played by Alice Lee), who’s in her early 20s, and Emma’s gay best friend Stan (played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who is getting back into the dating scene after a long period of mourning over the death of his longtime boyfriend Craig. Craig’s cause of death is not mentioned in the movie, but it’s mentioned that Stan and Craig were a couple for more than 15 years. Stan is a somewhat stereotypical gay best friend who makes sassy and sarcastic comments. Emma resists Stan’s efforts to play matchmaker for her.

Emma and Maggie are very close, almost like sisters. It’s revealed later in the movie that Emma and Maggie have bonded over their shared trauma of bad times with Emma’s ex-husband Andy (played by Kenneth Choi), who is Maggie’s father. Andy, who is an actor, is described as an alcoholic and a selfish deadbeat dad, who abandoned Emma and Maggie to be with another woman, whom he eventually married after Andy and Emma got divorced. Andy moved to Singapore and hasn’t been in contact with Emma and Maggie for an untold number of years.

Lately, Emma has started to feel like Maggie’s life is going in a direction that’s different from what Emma wants or expects. Maggie is in a serious relationship with her boyfriend Nate (played by Devon Bostick), who is originally from Melbourne, Australia, where his parents and other family members live. Emma doesn’t dislike Nate (who is easygoing and a little goofy), but she doesn’t entirely approve of the relationship either. Emma hasn’t taken the time to get to know Nate, so she’s somewhat suspicious of him.

Emma works at an unnamed company that publishes catalogues. The company has recently been been acquired by a large corporate firm. This merger resulted in layoffs and a more formal work culture that is causing many longtime employees to feel uncomfortable and insecure about their jobs. They don’t think this company is as fun and relaxed as it used to be before the merger. If Emma is feeling afraid she might be laid off, she’s not showing it, and there are no indications that she’s looking for another job.

Emma supervises a team of people whose job is to come up with the designs and words for the catalogues. Even though Emma can be very insecure in her personal life, she’s a demanding and assertive boss at work. For example, she’s shown in a staff meeting getting annoyed and fixated on how an unseen employee named Brian, who is fairly inexperienced, has made a lot of errors in a draft of a catalogue. Later, Emma is stung by a comment from a subordinate, who says that Emma seems to have a more rigid attitude ever since the merger, and Emma is not as friendly and approachable on the job as she used to be.

Stan is a real-estate agent who is contemplating entering into a “throuple” relationship with a gay couple named Julio (played by Joe Souza) and Bob (played by Marcus DeAnda), who recently bought a house from one of Stan’s clients. Julio and Bob have been heavily flirting with Stan, who doesn’t really know how to handle this attention from the couple. Stan also hints that he’s never dated a couple before. Stan is also exploring his options through online dating and asks for Emma’s help in taking a profile photo that Stan hopes will make him look sexy and attractive.

Meanwhile, Emma’s personal life gets turned upside down with news that happens within a day or two of each other. First, Maggie tells Emma that Maggie plans to spend more than just a few weeks with Nate when they visit his family in Australia for an upcoming trip. Maggie has decided that she will be spending five months in Australia and is quitting her job instead of taking a leave of absence. (The movie doesn’t say what kind of job Maggie has.) Emma thinks that Maggie is making the wrong decision about leaving a job for a temporary visit to another country. What really bothers Emma more (but she doesn’t say it out loud) is that she’s afraid that Maggie is starting to see Nate as more important to Maggie than Emma.

Not long afterward, Emma gets even more surprising news: Her ex-husband Andy has moved back to town. Andy surprises Emma with a visit and tells her that his career in Singapore (where he was the star of a successful TV series) got ruined because he was arrested for drunk driving, which was a big scandal. His most recent marriage also fell apart, and he’s now divorced again. He’s also financially broke. Andy is sheepish about these recent failures in his life, but he’s not looking for Emma’s pity or help.

Andy tells Emma that he has now permanently moved to the United States, where he hopes to revive his acting career. In the meantime, he’s working as a barista in a cafe, because he can’t find any jobs as an actor, although he’s hoping an offer that he got to be in a frequently delayed movie will work out for him. Andy is so broke, he can’t afford his own place. Andy has to live with his younger bachelorette sister Raven (played by Atsuko Okatsuka), a YouTuber whose channel is about doing food-related stunts for comedy. Raven has more than 1 million subscribers and makes a full-time income from what she does on YouTube.

Andy seems to be remorseful for how badly he treated Emma and Maggie in the past. He claims that he is now clean and sober and plans to stay that way. Emma is very skeptical at first, but the more time she spends with Andy, the more she is surprised by how different he seems from when they were married. He’s kind, polite and he makes her laugh. Some of their romantic sparks come back. Can this lead to a rekindled romance?

However, things are complicated because Andy wants to make peace with Maggie, who is still deeply hurt and resentful of the neglectful father she used to know. Emma doesn’t quite know when or how to tell Maggie about Andy moving back to same area. And then there’s Stan, who really disapproves of Emma giving Andy another chance because Stan thinks Andy will hurt Emma again.

“All That We Love” has obvious themes of when or if to let go of emotional baggage and whether or not to forgive someone who has been hurtful in the past. There are also some parallels about altered dynamics in close relationships. At various points in the story, Maggie and Emma want to be free to make certain life decisions without the harsh judgments of loved ones who are close to them.

The movie has a somewhat cutesy subplot involving one of Emma’s subordinates named Kayla (played by Missi Pyle), a devout Christian. In one of the movie’s early scenes, Kayla tells Emma that she wants to take an early buyout from the company instead of waiting to be laid off because Kayla wants to spend time doing her “true calling” of church work. Kayla also volunteers as a foster caregiver for dogs. You can easily predict where this subplot will go as soon as Emma visits Kayla at Kayla’s home.

All of the cast members give very good performances, but the movie’s authenticity rests largely on Cho’s nuanced performance as someone who’s feeling the discomfort of unpredictable life events while going through a grieving process. “All That We Love” excels in depicting complicated emotions and situations that arise when formerly feuding divorced parents reach a tentative reconciliation after years of anger and resentment. What does this do to the rest of the affected family members, who might not be ready to forgive and let go of the past?

A few moments in “All That We Love” veer into sitcom territory, particularly in a scene where Emma is asked to leave a house party, and she urinates in the lawn bushes because she doesn’t want to ask the party host to let her back in the house to use the bathroom. However, this well-written and capably directed film shows an overall wisdom of life’s messiness and how people can arrive at different conclusions based on how they deal with the past and the present. In its own observational way, “All That We Love” is a poignant testament of how letting go of previous experiences and facing an uncertain future can be much harder than holding on to the past.

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