After weeks of online buzz and cryptic messages from the singer’s social media sites, Taylor Swift finally dropped her long-awaited Red (Taylor version) Friday, the second release in a series of album re-recordings in an attempt to gain ownership of her catalog.
Swift’s reunion Red especially a nominated Album of the Year and her last dance with country music (before eventually returning to a more rustic sound in the 2020s Folklore and Evermore), has warranted increased publicity compared to her previous remake of Fearless, including some talk shows late at night, a musical venue on the weekends Saturday Night Live and most notably a screening of a short film she wrote and directed for the fan-favorite track “All Too Well.”
It comes as no great surprise that Swift has centered most of the album’s promotion around just that ballad, and released an extended 10-minute version that accompanies the short film. In the following nine years since its release, “All Too Well” has been hailed by fans and critics as the multi-Grammy winner’s magnum opus and an example of her illustrative songwriting, despite strangely not being one of Red‘s singles. Like most of Swift’s heartbreaking records, the legacy and cultural interpretation of “All Too Well”, beyond the entire 2012 project, has been informed by headlines about the singer’s romantic personal life, specifically her brief relationship with movie star Jake Gyllenhaal, which reportedly lasted from October to December 2010.
Although Swift has never publicly credited Gyllenhaal as the inspiration for the number, she has also never challenged the unanimous assumption among her fanbase that Red is very much about him. Likewise is Brokeback Mountain the actor’s name has appeared on all social media since the announcement of the short film starring Teen Wolf the heartbreaker Dylan O’Brien and Stranger Things actress Sadie Sink. Fans, including myself, were quick to notice the significant age difference between the two actors, who are believed to be playing fictional versions of Swift and Gyllenhaal, who are nine years apart. As the relationship between young women and older men is constantly analyzed and scrutinized on Twitter for their perceived inappropriateness, fans on social media began to anticipate a dismantling of the 40-year-old actress, who is currently dating a woman who is even younger than Swift.
Interesting, but not entirely surprising, Too good, the short film, along with the new number, is not the overly delicate, brutal retaliation fans could have expected of Swift as she revisits that moment in her early twenties as a wiser, more romantically experienced 31-year-old. Not that it does not give viewers much to react to.
Swift mostly confirms the “random cruelty[ty]She wrote about over ten years ago, including an anecdote that her former lover did not show up for her 21st birthday party in the expanded version (which is also the subject of “The Moment I Knew”). This moment is depicted in the film – as well as a dinner scene where O’Brien’s character (Him) entertains his older coterie of friends and rejects Sink’s character (Her) hand. This awkward rejection is followed by a fierce quarrel over O’Brien’s cold treatment of her, which includes some standard fuckboy gaslighting before an inadequate apology, which Sink readily accepts. O’Brien and Sink, while mostly performing dialogue-free, standard music video awards, are perfectly cast as a compelling train wreck by a couple embodying each partner’s respective mental weakness and innocence with enough chemistry to make their original attraction believable.
“This awkward rejection is followed by a heated altercation over O’Brien’s cold treatment of her, which includes some ordinary fuckboy gaslighting before an inadequate apology, which Sink (Here) readily accepts”
It’s a sometimes annoying habit at Swift to end some of her harder, stomach-churning material with a tone of sweetness and optimism. Swift, whose bodiliness matches a conventional cinematic love interest, has never struggled to paint herself as someone who should be longed for in her music, though her relationship does not always go as planned. Likewise, the film ends with a shot of O’Brien looking through a window at an older version of Sink’s character (played by Swift) wearing the famous scarf he has held for her because it “reminds [him] of innocence. “
That line alone seems to be an indictment of the way men value youth and naivety in women until they are old and wise enough to be discarded. But it is eventually followed up with claims from Swift that she was “the most real thing he had ever known” and that his memories of their romance are as poignant as hers. While O’Brien’s face is blurred in the last scene, the tenderness of the image as the snow falls around him gives the impression that he is reminiscent of an experience that was “rare,” as Swift describes it in the last chorus.
Swift seems to hold on to this belief 10 years later despite the neglect and carelessness she portrays from her ex throughout the video and the added lyrics. While we will never know the intricacies of that relationship from any of the parties involved, it feels like we are being cheated out of a more difficult retrospective take from Swift in favor of a few extra details that are not particularly surprising. This ultimately has to do with the fact that “All Too Well’s” 10-minute version is only an ad-libbed rough draft from 10 years ago, which Swift never released at the time as opposed to a rewrite of the track.
Basically, Swift’s latest cinematic effort boils down to a 15-minute Nicholas Sparks movie and a chance to watch Dylan O’Brien with a full beard. It will mostly serve as a launching pad for jokes and accusations that Jake Gyllenhaal is secretly a douchebag who, with his history of beef, also counts as a success for the Taylor Swift brand.