“All Too Well: The Short Film”, how Taylor Swift went from musician to movie maker

November 23, 2021

I was a bit saddened when the week ended because I did not, in fact, watch a Jake Gyllenhaal movie every day until Red got it’s re-release. I challenged myself in order to make the release of Taylor Swift’s new album an event. In truth, I find this a bit silly because making these challenges for myself does open me up to more cinema for me to see but at the expense of trying to watch them in a time constraint. Which is like liking the idea of the art rather than the art itself. So as I watched Taylor’s short film, it began to settle in that my habits were silly and I actually could enjoy the films I wanted to watch for the simple fact that they were enjoyable on their own. This was a nice change of pace and I’m glad that this little short could put my mind at ease and rekindle my reasons for loving filmmaking.

For perspective, I was not expecting to watch Taylor’s short hours after its release. In truth, I wasn’t really planning on watching it at all! But logging in to my Letterboxd account (a movie reviewing social media website) and seeing that it had the highest rating in Letterboxd history, a 4.8 at the time of me penning this review, I decided that it would be 14 minutes well spent. To say I have mixed feelings about it would be an understatement.

I have to go into this review acknowledging that I, a white teenage boy whose interest in Taylor as an artist comes mostly from hearing how impactful her music is for many of my close friends, is not the intended audience for this short. However, as a self-proclaimed film critic, I went in giving this my most open-mindedness. I have tried my hardest to be as honest and consistent as I can with my views on this film.

I think the strongest part of this film is Taylor’s music and talent herself. Her ten minute version of All Too Well flies by and her lyrics and general scope of sound is quite breathtaking. It’s a really good song and as someone who thought a ten minute long pop song was going to get irritating quickly I was actually surprised with how gripping her music was in the short. I also felt that her cameo at the end was a strong choice. Using the book reading as a message for her outreach to her fans was a great way to show her effect on millions of people all over the world and her universal experience. 

I’ve discovered over the past week-or-so that Taylor Swift and her music work because they feel both universal and understandable but also hyper-fixated in the experience. The choices she makes in her songwriting feels unique and she writes about experiences many will never live, but she also broadens her scope with empathetic songwriting to include her audience and create a shared experience. This is a truly special gift that she has and her talent is effective in providing that to the listener. She is always able to hit the right beats without being manufactured. Her natural self is just open and honest and true.

However, does this translate to her filmmaking abilities? Unfortunately I’d have to say no. The book reading scene is only a fleeting memory in this fourteen minute semi-autobiographical short. All the moments surrounding it are cliche, contrived, or cheesy. The button the film ends on feels like a sleazy wink at the audience rather than the tug on the heartstrings moment that Taylor’s song ends on. And the moments that make up the film feel lifeless and dull. I appreciate that Taylor decided to show us the relationship and not really tell us, but unfortunately she didn’t show us anything of interest. The cinematography and blocking of this film do absolutely nothing and pretty much every scene feels like a lifeless carbon copy of the hundreds of white hetero-normative romance drama films that are released every year. The music makes me feel something but the film doesn’t. None of the images feel impactful or like they mean anything to Taylor and, in turn, her empathy is lost on me as an audience member. There was not one time where I ever felt like the actors on screen really cared or listened or lived in their characters. I felt like they were rejecting ideas for the leads of Marriage Story or something. The first week montage, the midway fight scene, the drawn out break up: I’ve seen it all before.

I understand that Taylor’s music and the themes she covers aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but the way she does it is unique. It’s exciting! This movie doesn’t convey that nuance or excitement, but rather peters out a million images I’ve seen before. It doesn’t capture the human essence that Taylor can catch in her songs.

This really was disappointing from a filmmaking standpoint. Especially, when we as audience members are getting great audiovisual concoctions in other sects of the film industry! Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour Prom is a great example of how a great piece of music can transcend to become good filmmaking. But Taylor, who is a pioneer and huge influencer in her respective craft, makes something that feels leagues behind other recording artists’ foray into film.

In the end, I feel that her music is strong on its own. It doesn’t need a movie to add to it because All Too Well is already a perfect piece of standalone art, and a predictable short only diminishes its qualities. That doesn’t mean Taylor should stop making films either, I just want to see her tackle subjects that feel like they need to be told on screen rather than feeling like something that could be a weaker accompanying piece for a larger picture. This film just feels like an incomplete puzzle while the actual song feels like a few smaller and simpler pieces that make a fuller picture.

I think that anyone who is going to watch this film has already made up their mind on how they will feel about it. People who love Taylor are going to love this, and people who don’t love her are probably going to unabashedly dislike it. As someone who’s not really in either camp, I think I just prefer her music. But it’s because her music has exigency. It feels like something she needs to share, while this movie feels like an attempt to make a larger meal out of the leftovers.

For more in-depth reviews on film and all things cinema follow Owen Vaughn Espinosa on Letterboxd.

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