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‘Together Together’ Review: Patti Harrison submits a star-making turn opposite Ed Helms in a different kind of rom-com

Nikole Beckwith's smart screenplay balances quirk and steadfast sincerity in her successful second feature.
Credit: Bleecker Street

After about, oh, five minutes of Nikole Beckwith’s unorthodox but sure-to-make-hearts-swell drama “Together Together,” we begin to wonder if the central “couple” will ever “fall in love.” Give it a few minutes more and we suspect there can be no other conclusion, although what may be our strict definitions of those terms – bludgeoned into stone by decades of Hollywood’s heated heteronormativity – are challenged in this warm and dryly funny story about a single middle-aged man, a twentysomething surrogate mother bearing his child and the subversive bond they form. Releasing in some theaters Friday before on-demand availability next month, “Together Together” is one of the most chaste movies ever made about romance and one of the most suggestive movies ever made about friendship, and Beckwith confidently treads the tonal line—though an unfinished finale leaves us wondering if she was ultimately more invested in thematic contexts than the emotional destinations of her characters.

Our introduction to Ed Helms’s Matt and Patti Harrison’s Anna coincides (we presume) with their introduction to each other—at the onset of their relationship, an origin molded not by infatuated questions but Matt’s down-to-business inquiries as he searches for someone to bear his child. Single, healthy, not overworked at her coffee-shop job but invested in Matt’s desire for fatherhood...turns out Anna is a perfect fit. As their partnership promptly motors to life based around mutual vulnerability, some humorous hijinks and friendly affection, “Together Together” slips into similarly pleasant cinematic rhythms spiked with the occasional jab of prickly dialogue (Beckwith is also the screenwriter here) to counteract some smug obviousness hiding in the movie's construction. So languid is this low-key production from end to end that it’s a small wonder we don’t hear birds chirping in the background in even the indoor scenes, and that isn’t meant to be a disparagement of Beckwith’s aims; this isn’t a film of capital-D Drama but essentially a gentle feature-length montage of generation-transcending interpersonality. By keeping the emotional particulars of Matt and Anna’s companionship rooted in a place of frankness, the movie inherently evolves our traditional concepts of on-screen companionship.

The approach is an effective one even as Beckwith’s quirky urban fizz is daring her characters to create a different kind of spark, and here the performances of the co-leads uphold “Together Together’s” key sincerity. Helms and Harrison sync up as an excellent and endearing platonic pair, their chemistry integral for a film built almost entirely on their one-on-one conversations, maternity-clothes shopping trips, celebratory dinners, late-night Netflix hangouts. Helms’s trademark bumbling awkwardness – substantially more soulful than his work in “The Office” and “The Hangover” – has never been better utilized than it is here, and Harrison’s performance – jagged and melancholic and hopefully star-making – is more than enough to re-ground the material when her screen partner occasionally threatens to over-enunciate his wryness.

More importantly (and fitting for a movie about the dynamic virtues of partnership), the two ably harmonize with their director’s intentions as “Together Together” becomes an ode to those who motor through life not on neutral, but merely in low gear, motivated by different calculations of personal aspiration. “It’s weird to be perceived as hopeless when I’m incredibly hopeful,” Matt says in one standout scene, and Helms’s perfectly matter-of-fact delivery leaves no doubt in our mind about the sentiment. In a movie partially about societal optics – about how the application of simple associations of love and loneliness can actually result in misinterpretation – the words fashion themselves into a commentary about our steadfast familiarity with the romantic comedy, a genre “Together Together” would gladly slot itself into even as its shaking its foundations.

In the movie’s best parts, it’s completely untethered from that burden. What “Together Together” is at its core – what it never insists it must be more than – is a simple story about simple yet wholly captivating free spirits told over some 90 minutes which sprint by faster than an episode of “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” (making it easier to overlook a couple scenes where we suspect Beckwith is merely stretching her core sensibility to its absolute limits). Matt and Anna occasionally test our believability after the latter accepts an invitation to stay at Matt’s home during the latter stages of pregnancy – developments which Beckwith’s direction unspools with a face so straight she should head to Las Vegas immediately post-vaccine – but rarely do they bend our willingness to sympathize as they eagerly take each others’ hands to keep from falling on the wrong side of the boundaries they’ve set up for themselves. This is a mighty sweet and purposefully practical film, one where even a scene centered on a detailed rehearsal of tampon use elicits the suggestion that maneuvering life alone isn’t always synonymous to being closed off to those we happen to run into along the way.

"Together Together" is rated R for some sexual references and language. It releases in some San Antonio theaters Friday.

Starring: Patti Harrison, Ed Helms, Rosalind Chao, Timm Sharp

Directed by Nikole Beckwith

2021

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