Taylor Swift is an eleven-time Grammy winner and has the distinction of being the first and only woman solo artist to win the Grammy for Album Of The Year three times. She has released nine original studio albums, two re-recorded albums, and several live, extended, and compilation albums. Her list of nominations, wins, and accolades for her music and documentaries is nearly as long as the list of music she has released. In addition to being a singer-songwriter, she is also an actress, and following the release of her first short film All Too Well: The Short Film, she has added director to her list of titles.
All Too Well: The Short Film is a Brutal and Gorgeous Filmmaking Debut for Taylor Swift
Based on her song “All Too Well,” which was released on the RED album in October 2012, the roughly fourteen-minute short film details the beginning and the end of a tumultuous young love. It stars Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brien as Her and Him, respectively.
Swift’s music has always been a window into her personal life, a means of recounting break-ups, fallouts, and heartache in a very visceral and relatable way. A carefully crafted recollection that leaves just enough plausible deniability, while being perfectly blatant as well. All Too Well, on the other hand, leaves no room for speculation. As “Him,” Dylan O’Brien perfectly embodies the sort of charming arrogance you can find in Jake Gyllenhaal interviews, while Sadie Sink’s “Her” captures the wide-eyed naïveté of Swift, even dressed in her classic black turtleneck, red lip look that was so prevalent during this era in her life.
Swift allows her lyrics to carry the first third of the film, mirroring the first blush of romance and the idyllic first beginnings of love. In these early moments, you don’t notice the imbalance between Her and Him. But when the scene changes and they’re sitting at a dining table surrounded by his much older friends, it’s clear how out of place she feels.
The damning moment in their relationship arrives when she reaches for his hand, looking for solace in a moment of discomfort, and he drops it leaving her to reconsider where they stand. In the wake of the party, the music fades and the couple fight over the incident. Her emotions are minimized as he talks circles around her, leaving her to feel like she is being selfish or crazy for feeling wounded by the way he treated her with his friends. Swift leaves little to the imagination, blatantly showcasing Him gaslighting Her in front of a gas stove. This particular incident seems to have a through-line in Swift’s later music, as her recent track “Champagne Problems” used similar imagery.
In this moment, All Too Well feels like a cousin to Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. The rollercoaster of emotions and the sudden realization that there’s no fixing a sinking ship. It’s an interesting parallel to draw, as well, given the fact that Baumbach famously cast Adam Driver to portray a version of himself in the film. Swift borrows similar styles as well—fashioning Her as a writer, rather than making Her a songwriter.
Swift utilizes some stunning scene composition throughout the film, contrasting heightened emotions opposite the tender innocence of Her and Him in bed. So much of that can also be credited to cinematographer Rina Yang who shot the film on 35mm. It captures the essence of “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version” and “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)” which has a very cozy autumn day feeling. Swift and Yang managed to perfectly translate that auditory sensation for the screen.
Following the break-up, Her sits down at her typewriter and you know that she is going to take her broken heart and turn it into art. But nothing can prepare you for the transition from Sink to Swift, who portrays Her later on. In “Thirteen Years Gone,” Her steps out from behind the curtains, matured, poised, and ready to face an audience of books lovers waiting to hear her talk about her new novel.
The real kicker comes when it is revealed that Him is outside of the bookstore, looking in through the window at her success. And of course, he’s wearing her scarf. A poignant and beautiful moment that can be interpreted in so many ways. Is he remorseful for what he did wrong? Does he regret that he let her go? How does he feel that she’s thriving and the heartbreak he inflicted gave her the experience to write her novel, aptly named All Too Well? None of it matters because he is no longer part of the narrative and Swift opts to never show the older Him’s face.
All Too Well neatly combines Swift’s lyrics with the perfect blend of dialogue, carried by the electric chemistry between Sink and O’Brien. The pair completely transform into their roles, leaving you reeling from the emotional highs and lows put on display. All Too Well is raw, real, and evocative.
In a lot of ways, All Too Well condemns the criticism that Swift received from the media at the time, considering the age difference between her and Gyllenhaal. It’s a pretty damning picture of a much older man gaslighting a woman who was barely an adult, taking her “innocence,” and leaving her broken. If the emotions conveyed in the filmmaking are any indication, this is clearly a wound that Swift still carries.
Swift’s first venture into filmmaking secures her spot as a director to keep an eye on. She has already shown great promise with crafting unforgettable music videos, but now that she has tried her hand at writing and directing a short film—what’s next?
All Too Well: The Short Film premiered in New York City on November 12th, making it eligible for an Oscar nomination. The short film is available to watch on YouTube.