Starring: Christopher Abbott, Gaby Hoffman, Dan Bittner, Emily Fleischer, Jacinta Puga, Kelly Alcoin, Matt McCarthy, Christopher McCann
All That I Am is a bit of tough nut to crack. This is definitely not your average independent movie, which both works for and against it. The characters are certainly more believable and honest than the quirky social misfits normally associated with independent films. However, that very honesty often makes the characters rather unpleasant to watch, and to an extent the movie itself.
Shortly before his wife dies from a terminal illness, psychiatrist Dr. Lynn (Christopher McCann) abruptly abandons her, leaving his three kids (Susan, Christian and Win) to pick up the pieces. Almost a decade later, he suddenly shows up at Christian’s (Christopher Abbott) doorstep in the hopes of making amends and the opportunity to explain why he left their mother and his continued absence over the years. He convinces a very reluctant Christian to drive him to an upcoming family reunion so that he can explain himself to Susan (Gaby Hoffman) and Win (Dan Bittner) as well. To further complicate matters, Susan has also invited Christian’s ex-girlfriend Kate (Emily Fleischer) to the reunion and Christian must drive her as well.
When Dr. Lynn does eventually reunite with each of his kids, his reception is unsurprisingly mixed. Christian, a struggling writer and drug addict, resents his father both for abandoning his mother and forcing him to play the peacekeeper between him and his sister. Susan, now married with a young daughter, probably has the most emotional baggage after having to fill the role of both parents for her younger brothers after their mother died. Win, on the other hand is genuinely happy to see his dad after so many years and throughout the film is more concerned about downplaying the accomplishments in his career so that Christian doesn’t feel like such a failure by comparison.
I kept waiting for a moment that would make Dr. Lynn more sympathetic and give his kids a good reason to forgive him but that moment never really came. If anything, the movie managed to make him even less likable than he already was to begin with. While his revelation does somewhat explain why he ran out on his dying wife, it doesn’t excuse anything else that he’s done since then. If he had this explanation the whole time, why did it take so many years for him to tell it to his own kids? Even worse, it’s implied the the mother was well aware of this excuse the entire time but apparently didn’t think it was worth mentioning either. The excuse also doesn’t justify why he made so little effort to contact his kids in the years since then when they probably could have used some emotional support from him. To top it all off, it also turns out that while his wife was on her death bed, he was having an affair with his nineteen year-old patient. At least when Robert DeNiro was unlikable in Raging Bull, I knew it was intentional. Here though, I’m not so sure and frankly, if I have to ask, then it’s probably a bad sign.
As much as I found the characters to be unpleasant at times, I will commend the film for at least portraying them like they’re real people. Too often with films like this, you see the characters acting in ways no human would (though that’s probably a discussion for another day). Thankfully though, All That I Am manages to avoid that pitfall and consequently the conversations feel surprisingly genuine and real to the point that you feel you could have met this family before.
I really wanted to like this more than I actually did. While the characters certainly feel real they are also the kind of people that I would usually cross the street to avoid. All That I Am is a film that gave me mixed feelings but since the characters go through the same experience, that may have been the point. Despite the director and actors’ admirable efforts, the film falls just short of being something special.