review: together together
Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in Together Together (2021)
Great films about platonic love are few and far between in the mainstream. So rarely are these relationships portrayed on screen without aiming for romance as the end-goal. When a film as sweet as Together Together comes along, there is an optimistic tilt towards seeing more stories that address such relationships in a tactful way. Following up on her first feature film Stockholm, Pennsylvania (starring Saoirse Ronan), writer/director Nicole Beckwith brings her refreshing perspective to a story about two people bonded by a shared experience. Rather than portray the trappings of societal expectations around topics such as parenthood and pregnancy, Beckwith leans in with an inquisitive eye. Why, asks one of the protagonists, is the idea of being a single mother frowned upon while the idea of being a single father is cute? Why is being single seen as hopeless or a lost cause after a certain age? Together Together is a charming portrait of a relationship that truthfully explores how perceptions of love challenge the way people relate to each other.
At the core of this story is the relationship between a middle-aged bachelor named Matt (Ed Helms) and a young surrogate named Anna (Patti Harrison). Matt is about to become a first-time parent, which he is fidgety and excited about. His family and friends seem on board, yet there is a hesitance in the air to fully embrace his decision to become a dad through surrogacy. He’s perceived as hopeless for spending this chapter alone, but he just so happens to be single, and he’s just pursuing what he cares about. Anna also happens to be single, and at a point where she’s navigating through life in her mid 20s. There is a tendency on Matt’s part to be extra protective and hovering, as though pregnancy makes her suddenly fragile. But she’s fully capable of carrying on with everyday life. Nicole Beckwith writes with a matter-of-factness that ground these characters in truthfulness. Anna and Matt’s relationship is developed with a level of tenderness that sets this film apart from rom-com tropes with predictable arcs. Beckwith focuses on the tiny details of their bond and shows how it eschews the notion of romance. Anna and Matt aren’t ‘together’ together, but all the shopping trips, sleepovers and parenting classes amount to a lot of time spent together. Sometimes Anna feels like a charity case whose individuality goes unseen by Matt. As the two learn more about each other, their relationship takes shape and they recognize the importance of boundaries.
The film chronicles a particular moment in their lives that is shared by matter of bringing life into the world. Having such a clear focus on these two characters makes Together Together an absolute joy to watch. Patti Harrison and Ed Helms bring their roles to life with an abundance of charm and a chemistry that is instantly lovable. Harrison’s performance in particular is incredibly layered, and she balances so many tonal shifts, often times in a single moment. Anna is a wonderfully written character; her desire to hold onto what makes her an individual, as she’s going through the process of pregnancy, is a powerful focal point in the film. Harrison’s co-star Helms is also a joy to watch for his charming portrayal of Matt. His character is a poignant depiction of hope; he knows what he wants, and is undeterred by how middle-aged single parenting through surrogacy is perceived. Harrison and Helms together are dynamite. Every moment of awkwardness, uncertainty, and heartfelt confessionals feels refreshingly real. Adding to the shine of their performances is Beckwith’s wonderful screenplay.
Together Together is an earnest, funny, and refreshing conversational piece. Beckwith strikes up a resonating discussion about intimacy that is often sugarcoated within the rom-com genre. There are no cliché emotional arcs that suddenly turn a platonic friendship into romance. Beckwith subverts glossy versions of pregnancy and parenthood, instead far more interested in exploring that safe space in a platonic relationship where these topics are discussed openly without judgment. At the heart of this film is an exploration of identity through pregnancy and through friendship. It’s a story about two people learning about each other’s needs as they each pursue what they care about and find comfort in the safe space of intimate togetherness.
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