2021 | rated R | starring Patti Harrison, Ed Helms, Tig Notaro | written & directed by Nikole Beckwith | 1 hr 30 mins |
A movie like Together Together is in a very small sub-genre of films that sits just outside of mainstream formulaic romantic comedies. That’s because a movie like this requires genuine care for the characters and their relationship, a perfect tonal balance and maybe some life experience to pull off. I could probably count examples on one hand, namely David Lean’s classic Brief Encounter and Sophia Coppola’s modern mood masterpiece Lost in Translation. The opposite sex platonic love story. To the extent that these movies have a will-they or won’t-they tension or a break-up-to-make-up structure it is only to subvert the genre tropes and bore into the raw, complicated emotions beneath. Together Together is wonderfully sweet, smart and funny and one of the best movies of this year.
A single man in his 40s, Matt (Ed Helms), without a romantic partner in sight decides to pursue a dream of having a child nonetheless. He does so after selecting Anna (Patti Harrison) to be his gestational surrogate and the two loners embark on a journey together that wobbles from contractual obligations and baby monitoring to blurring lines of intimacy as the due date approaches.
Superficially, Together Together has a lot in common with Lost in Translation: the opposites sex platonic love story, with a May-December age difference and a traditionally comic actor turning – and succeeding wildly – in an understated dramatic role while the female lead’s journey grabs us by the collar and pulls us in emotionally. It’s also similar in the deeper elements. A unique quality to all 3 of these named movies is that they have a finite end date, a ticking clock, that forces unlikely friendships in enclosed spaces and encapsulates their relationship for a period of time. Just as Bill Murray’s departure from Japan in Translation looms on the horizon, so does the birth of Matt’s baby and the inevitable end of Matt and Anna’s budding friendship. Or does it? That ambiguity that waffles back and forth as Matt and Anna both tread through unfamiliar territory and feel out what they are and what they mean to each other is the juicy center of this thoughtful film.
It’s perfectly-balanced emotional work from writer/director Nikole Beckwith who often keeps the film slimmed down to 2-shots of our two leads, standing or sitting shoulder to shoulder in most of the frames like the box life’s little have put them in. The film is honest without being saccharine, funny without being indie quirky. If you’re only familiar with Helms’ work in The Hangover or The Office his turn here is just right and Harrison (whose work is mostly voice acting) is a breakout here. The film is powered on their chemistry together. The script is thoughtful. At once point Anna asks Matt why he’s alone and he gives and answers as simple as it is obvious, “I’m alone because I’m alone.” This movie’s protagonists are not just trapped together, but trapped in a cycle they can’t get out of.
Is Together Together a great movie because it feels real (as a credit acknowledgement seems to indicate it being somewhat autobiographical) or because it feels honest? Nowadays it’s exceeding rare for a movie to make me feel anything, much less pangs of empathy for it’s characters the way this one did. It’s increasingly rare for movies to be about something so ambiguous and ethereal, seemingly feeling itself out as it goes along, yet at the same time so confident in the questions it poses. This movie teaches you how to watch it, constantly setting up tropes and knocking them down, shaping and reshaping it’s characters relationship, from their decisions, circumstances and needs. The ending also stuck with me, both celebratory and kind of haunting, but a gut-punch either way. A highly recommended piece of mature indie filmmaking. I haven’t seen anything like it in 18 years and that’s a wonderful thing.