Review: ‘All Too Well’ short film


Since the release of Taylor Swift’s album Red in 2012, the, at first, understated fifth song ‘All Too Well’ quickly became an anthem for a generation. The re-recordings of her pre-Lover albums has brought the Swiftie community together more than ever, and the release of a ten-minute version of their universal favourite has had an intense reaction.

Then, just to send the Swifties into a full craze, Miss Swift self-directed a short film to accompany the hit, starring 19-year-old Sadie Sink and 30-year-old Dylan O’Brien. The ages of the pair are significant in confirming fans assumptions that the song is about Jake Gyllenhaal, with whom Swift had a three-month relationship despite him being ten years her senior.

This large age gap is ruthlessly mentioned in her lyrics, where Swift says, “I’ll get older, but your lovers stay my age”, and “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine/And that made me want to die”. This, along with the line “you kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath” are iconic and were learnt by heart by Swifties internationally within one day.

A quote by Pablo Neruda that “love is so short, forgetting is so long” opens the short film before we are swiftly taken to an autumnal road where “leaves [are] falling down like pieces into place”.

Sink is immediately a recognisable Taylor, despite her striking ginger roots. In a black turtleneck and red lipstick, she instantly reminds audiences of Swift’s preppy clothing during the Red era. This clothing choice enables audiences to be drawn into the innocent world of young Swift and the hardships of love she experienced.

However, at first, the audience is invited to adore the couple, as a classic romantic comedy ‘happy couple’ montage is shown. The pair are seen spontaneously piggybacking, playing card games, dancing “in the refrigerator light”, and kissing. They look in love, despite Swift’s claim that ‘him’ “never called it what it was”.

The ten-minute song is increased to a fifteen-minute short film by including a long argument scene between the pair, solely named ‘him’ and ‘her’ for ‘anonymity’ – a word rarely used in Swiftomania.

The argument sequence is one of the most realistic I have seen filmed

After O’Brien drops Sink’s hand while she is uncomfortable at a swanky dinner party, a fight ensues. The argument sequence is one of the most realistic I have seen filmed – in one long shot, audiences are captivated by Sink and feel sympathetic for her as she is so aggressively gaslit. “I don’t think I’m making you feel that way; I think you’re making yourself feel that way”, O’Brien says to Sink.

The main thing that this short film demonstrates is the growth that Swift has experienced over the past nine years. Her lyric “I remember it all too well” used to sound softer, but now seems like an assertion clear from the gaslighting ‘he’ put ‘her’ through. This version is raw, unfiltered and communicates anger that one can usually only feel directly after heartbreak, but Swift so accurately captures this feeling that audiences can feel these emotions over and over again at her command.

The film ends with an insight into this more mature, stronger Swift, thirteen years into the future. Sink’s character is now played by Swift herself, reading a novel called All Too Well to a large crowd as her ex, faceless, watches on from outside the window wearing her red scarf.

The attention to detail within this short film is second to none. Nothing is missed, and Swift’s classic ‘Easter Eggs’, which allude to elements of what is to come in her next album, are so subtly done that they are almost missed. For example, sink shouts that O’Brien “dropped her f**king hand”, referencing the lyric “dropped your hand while dancing” in her Evermore hit ‘Champagne Problems’. A present at her “21st birthday” appears in the ‘I Bet You Think About Me’ music video. The final chapter is called ’13 years gone’, and there have only been nine years since, alluding to the idea that Swift will publish a novel in a few years’ time. Finally, in the dinner party scene, every wine glass is drunk apart from Sink’s, referencing her young age compared to those around her.

These ‘eggs’ are separated into different chapters by director Swift, including ‘The First Break in the Glass’, ‘The Breaking Point’ and ‘The Remembering’. This narrative approach is common in Swift’s music and seeing it in a cinematic style makes the entire song feel more ‘real’.

All Too Well’ is a lyrical and melodic masterpiece

‘All Too Well’ is a lyrical and melodic masterpiece, and its short film is a cinematic masterpiece. Swift’s direction is astounding and gives this once understated song the iconic treatment it deserves.  


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