Much like the video for "Everything Has Changed," Taylor only makes a cameo in this film and hands the role of the main character over to very public Swiftie, Sadie Sink. In interviews ahead of the release of the short film, Taylor shared that she would've abandoned the idea of the project if Sadie had passed on the project. Lucky for the thousands of fans who have wanted an "All Too Well" music video since 2012, she agreed to be a part of the project.
Dylan O'Brien takes the role of her creepily old love interest. Between the vault songs, film, and Twitter's full on war against Jake Gyllenhaal, it seems like the main revelation of the Red TV era is just how much older Jake is than Taylor (9 years apart). While I've never particularly liked Jake, I didn't realize that his age gap with Taylor was nearly as egregious as John Mayer's. Funnily enough, Taylor actually addresses Jake's apparent Leonardo DiCaprio syndrome in one of the newly released "All To Well" lyrics as she sings, "And I was never good at telling jokes, but the punchline goes / 'I'll get older but your lovers stay my age'". This fact has been well documented and is now being unearthed once again as people think to reflect on his dating history.
All of this is to the point that as soon as Sadie and Dylan's casting was announced, the internet fixated on the large age gap between them as they were set to play love interests. During the film, many Twitter users remarked on how uncomfortable their very apparent age difference made them watching the film. There is something intensely awkward and thoroughly unromantic about their scenes together. But that's the genius of it. It's supposed to have that effect. If "Dear John" wasn't enough of a cautionary tale, hopefully this can serve as a warning, and that's how it seems to be framed.
The film opens with a romantic scene of the two whispering back and forth while lying in bed before breaking away to a bright, fall nature scene in the woods of Upstate New York. Flashing between first walking into his house as narrated in the verse and leaving her scarf on the banister and the drive away for the weekend, we start to see their relationship take shape. They eagerly converse in the car on the drive, looking like they're playfully debating, he carries her piggy back style through the woods, and they walk out to the lake shore where they share earbuds to listen to music together. There's also a very cinematic, long, spinning make-out scene that would definitely be romantic if he just didn't look so much older than her.
But this perfect, rom-com bubble doesn't last long, and soon enough, they're back at his house at a dinner party with his friends. He's clearly being obnoxious, and Sadie looks intimidated and uncomfortable in a room full of older strangers. He's drunk and sets aside her hand when she tries to hold it for moral support. Her wine stays untouched on the table, accentuating both the fact that she was under the drinking age at the time and that he picked the kind she didn't like as much.
The scene cuts to the kitchen where she's trying to do the dishes after the party. He comes into the shot to plop down more dirty dishes right over the ones she just cleaned. They get into a fight about how she was being "quiet" and weird all night, in his words, and because he was being a total asshole all night. They get into an extremely explicit screaming match where his gaslighting ability is on a level 10 as he tries to claim he didn't even remember rejecting her hand. He makes her out to be absolutely crazy, and she starts to break down. Of course, he quickly flips a switch and tries to win her back over to his side with softer words and a hug from behind. And because she's so broken at this point, she falls back into his arms. Apparently most of this scene was improved, and it really does show Dylan and Sadie's acting chops. I'm pretty sure that argument struck a chord for many a viewer.
But then the song continues, and they're back to dancing in the refrigerator light and playing cards in front of the fire. Everything is okay again for a moment as they cuddle and fill out the crossword on a lazy morning. The stark flip flopping between a highly romanticized memory and a stone cold reality accurately reflects the confusion that made it so hard for Taylor to move on in the first place. This section takes on the high highs and low lows.
This falls away again as they end up in another fight sequence where Dylan is intently freezing Sadie out. She can't get through, and it rips her apart. To go with one of the new verses, we next find Sadie aimlessly wandering around a party (in a building that reminds me a fair bit of the Met (Easter egg anyone?)). She's stuck on the fringes and stuck in her own head. I was slightly disappointed that we didn't get a full scene around "Not weeping in a party bathroom / Some actress asked me what happened, you / That's what happened, you".
Instead, we flash back to him charming his way into her family over coffee with her dad, which feels like a betrayal looking back on it. And from there, we get to revisit my favorite part of the Red lore, the ruined 21st birthday. This moment is also extensively covered on the original bonus track "The Moment I Knew," and it's clear that him skipping out on her birthday, rightfully, left a lasting impact.
From the birthday party, she's sent into a state of mourning the relationship as the world changes around her, but she doesn't get out of bed. Eventually, she gets to her red typewriter to try to figure out her feelings in words, and it triggers a series of flashbacks through the good and the bad, ultimately ending at the moment they decided to call it quits. There's plenty of crying, screaming, and kissing to go around in this film. The key elements of any drama. As the cutbacks to prior scenes and glimpses of memories that didn't make the film flit past the screen, you start to realize that as the viewer, you also feel like you're being broken up with.
Then we flash forward a requisite 13 years for Taylor's appearance. In her second on screen turn with red hair (the first being the "Babe" music video with Sugarland), she plays both herself and an older Sophie who is now finally the age of the man she once loved. She's now an accomplished author with a book aptly titled All Too Well with a cover that looks oddly borrowed from the Giving Tree. She takes the stage to read an excerpt from her book to an audience who'd come to her signing. From the packed attendance, it seems like she's become quite the successful author from the messy pain of that relationship.
Slowly, the camera pans out, eventually pulling through the back windows where we find a figure watching from the outside. He's wearing the red scarf that Sadie left behind at the start of the movie for the requisite full circle finish. We never see this older version of Dylan's face, and I originally assumed it was just Dylan again. This actor's credit isn't on the same page as Taylor, Dylan, and Sadie's, but if you watch the entire credit roll, the part of Him, Later is attributed to Jake Lyon. This man seems to be about as real as William Bowery from what I can find on Google, and this seems to be one of the shadier Easter eggs buried in the film.
The film is honestly spectacular, emotional, and perfectly delivers on everything Swifties could've possibly wanted from an "All Too Well" music video. It was perfectly cast and expertly written and directed by Taylor, who has finally started to fully take charge of those roles in recent videos, even though we all know she's been running the video show from the very beginning. Along with reclaiming her masters, Taylor has looked at these re-recording eras as a way to provide even more context to the albums and eras of the past through additions like the vault songs, and the "All Too Well" film just cements that further.
I'm excited to see if she'll be adding to the canon this extensively in any of the remaining eras or if Red TV was among the most special eras to Taylor and therefore has received special treatment.
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