‘All That We Love’ Review: Margaret Cho Brings Delight to Dramedy as She Mourns the Loss of a Dog

There comes a time when anyone with a dog must inevitably say goodbye. Though I didn’t know it then, my final farewell came when visiting home before later heading off to cover this year’s SXSW. Shortly after filing my final review of the already not-exactly-happy film “Civil War,” I got that sad phone call saying my childhood dog was gone.

It was a moment that was unexpectedly disorienting as, in addition to being a world away in a state of exhaustion, it brought rushing in how a part of me is now gone too. The person I was and the past I had with this silly dog are now forever confined to memories that could never replace the real thing. We like to think this is something we’ll be able to handle as we grow older, but that is not always so easy. A dog is never just a dog. It’s a being you care for and cares for you in what can be a mighty lonely world.

It is this state of mind and emotion that writer/director Yen Tan throws us into with “All That We Love.” Premiering Saturday at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival, it’s a relatively light though still effective dramedy that begins with the death of a dog. Shot with a gentle touch where we hear sounds like a wind chime and observe empty spaces, it’s a tranquil moment that will then become complicated by the sadness to come.

Specifically, we witness the moments before the death of the canine companion to Margaret Cho’s Emma. Where some other movies (looking at you, “Marley and Me”) can take a more cloying approach in how they build to this impending loss, “All That We Love” comes right out of the gate with it. In a story cowritten with Clay Liford, Tan then takes us into the more complicated and thorny emotions Emma gets caught in. Many are brought to the surface by this death, making it the lens through which her life is refracted.

Namely, this centers around Emma’s relationship with her family. Her daughter Maggie (Alice Lee) is planning a big move to Australia with her boyfriend. The mother and daughter remain close, though with a complicated relationship, as both were all the other had when the family’s patriarch walked out on them. Now Andy (Kenneth Choi) has returned from Singapore, both to remain sober and to relaunch his career as an actor, following its earlier implosion.

When Emma begins to reconnect with her ex, she does so over the objections of her best friend Stan (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who remembers the struggles they had when Andy left. That’s all informed by how he is still dealing with a recent loss of his own. While there are silly moments that ensue, all of it is infused with a sentimental and sincere tone. Though it comesclose to falling into saccharine territory, a bittersweet edge keeps it sharp.

Some of this comes from Stan, who delivers playful yet still withering lines, like when he kicks Emma out of his car after driving his drunk friend home. However, the core of the film remains Cho who, while great in supporting roles as in the recent “Fire Island,” is especially excellent here. As a woman going through a bit of a midlife crisis, she walks a tricky tightrope between capturing a more earnest melancholy while also being kind of a mess.

Whether it’s a subtly awkward scene at her work or when an attempt to adopt an adorable yet annoying new dog immediately goes off the rails, we feel Emma going through it. She’s not quite sure what to do, but she’s just going to keep pushing until she figures it out. Cho is delightful in these moments. Whether it’s perfectly playing drunk or when Emma has forgotten her loss and is going through her routine, every emotion is earned.

Even while stretches of the film can get increasingly bogged down in some awkward dialogue that’s a bit on the nose in how characters spell out exactly what they’re feeling, both the cast and the filmmakers always find something more genuinely thoughtful at the end of the rough spots. The scenes between Cho and Choi are the standouts of the experience as both capture the familiar rhythms the two characters have with each other, just as they’re now different people.

When they talk about their now departed dog, the dialogue takes on an almost wistful tone that could be wearisome if lesser actors were delivering it. Instead, we feel the hurt in their voices just as there is joy in finding someone that they can talk to about the pain they’re each still sorting through.

In the end, that is where the film ultimately finds its strongest beats. Another tranquil moment in a diner echoes the beginning as we are allowed to linger and reflect in silence. It ensures that, while the film might not be as consistently funny as you’d hope, you go with it because of the heart at its core.

This even includes a moment near the close where, while not on the level of a project like the upcoming “Bird,” we get a flash of something a bit more fantastical surrounding the initial loss. Though some could easily groan, this is still understated enough to avoid feeling manipulative. Rather, it’s an honest glimpse into how loss sticks with us. Only when we face it can we find slices of peace and learn to enjoy the wind chimes again.

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