Taylor Swift at the 2021 Grammy Awards. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Arts and Entertainment

Review: Taylor Swift’s short film ‘All Too Well’ highlights relationships with unequal power dynamics

The film makes you look at a large age gap in a relationship.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/ellabilu/" target="_self">Ella B.</a>

Ella B.

December 21, 2021
Scrolling through my social media the morning after the debut of “All Too Well,” I saw Instagram stories reposting photos and Twitter memes demonizing Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend, actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Being a fan of Swift, I had somewhat of an understanding of why the whole internet was bullying Jake Gyllenhaal: he was Swift’s ex-boyfriend who didn’t treat her well.

But I didn’t know all of the stories. Only later would I completely understand their complex relationship.

At 12 a.m. eastern on Nov. 12, Taylor Swift released her newest set of recordings: “Red (Taylor’s Version).” Along with the new set of recordings came a short film starring Dylan O’Brien and Sadie Sink that premiered later that day. As a moderate Swiftie, and even more so a bored teenager, I chose to watch the near-15 minute film on its debut day.

The story starts with a quote: “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” Touching and meaningful as it was at the time, the quotation went on to have even more significant importance throughout the two characters’ love story.

The tale revolves around the relationship of a young woman and a somewhat older man. Throughout the 10-minute song and dialogue, viewers can see all the highlights and bumps of their relationship. From romantic strolls and heated arguments to the eventual breakup and finally, the protagonist’s individual success, the film encompasses it all.

What really makes it special though, is its portrayal of the unequal power dynamic in a relationship with a large age gap.

With many intimate moments in the His and Her story, I often found myself uncomfortable. Sadie Sink, who plays the protagonist, is only 19, and visibly younger than her co-star. Dylan O’Brien, who plays her lover, is 11 years older than Sink, making him 30.

Their power dynamic concerned me, and even disgusted me at times, but as the film progressed, I had a big realization.

Much of the “Red” album was based on Swift’s relationship with Gyllenhaal. The song “All Too Well” is one of those many songs. Gyllenhaal is almost a decade older than Swift, so the casting there was a brilliant representation of Swift and Gyllenhaal’s relationship. After understanding why their age gap was so large, I was able to enjoy the film’s beauty more.

The film sheds new light not only on Swift’s short-lived relationship with Gyllenhaal but also on relationships with unequal power dynamics more broadly. Revealing new situations like birthday parties with friends and living together between the two, it offered a new, realistic and sometimes uncomfortable perspective on a situation not often portrayed in the media.

Swift showed well the manipulation and power dynamic this age-gapped couple saw, but it wasn’t all her in that department. The talented acting of Sink and O’Brien brought the story together. Both of their portrayals made me feel anger, excitement and frustration.

The expressions and emotions shown by Sink were award-worthy — you could feel her pain and vulnerability. The blanketed manipulation oozed through the screen and made me question my previous acceptance of these types of relationships.

I began to ponder a few of my favorite television couples who had clear, non-equal power dynamics. Jan and Michael from “The Office.” Even Damon and Elena from “The Vampire Diaries.”

In “Grey’s Anatomy,” was Derek Shepherd, an extremely high-ranking and powerful doctor right to try and form a relationship with a younger intern in Meredith Grey? What about every vampire-mortal tale ever? The vampire is almost always centuries-old trying to fall in love with a high schooler. I have a different outlook on all of their love stories now.

All of these television shows, along with many more, normalize and romanticize relationships with harmful, manipulative and unequal-power dynamics. “All Too Well” gives viewers a much more realistic and clear perspective.