by Ken Bakely
Amid the underplayed vibe and low-key energy of Nikole Beckwith’s Together Together is an unmistakable sense of confidence and drive. Its tone and approach is one thing, but it’s within a package that is very frequently direct, honest, and completely unafraid of its characters’ complexities. Even when the film can wander a little too far astray from its own core, there’s a sturdiness to the movie further enhanced by a wonderfully accomplished cast. Ed Helms stars as Matt, a single, middle-aged software developer who has decided to become a father. The surrogate carrying his child is Anna (Patti Harrison), a younger woman who has become somewhat socially withdrawn amid a challenging past. Their differences in perspective and resulting worldview play against each other for some awkwardly funny interactions. Matt’s head-first dive into the prep of an expecting parent comes to quickly feel like an awkward invasion of Anna’s own life and boundaries, as she enters the process with the knowledge that this is not her child to raise. However, the time that they spend together becomes the basis of a tentative friendship, as they learn more about each other as they prepare – in their own roles – for the birth of the child.
Their interplay is fascinating, though that’s hardly to discount the fine work that the two leads do in developing their characters individually. As Matt, Helms finesses the discomfort that comes from his anxieties and how it plays off on other people; as Anna, Harrison expertly glides between the outward traits of her character’s quiet outward personality and the more complex experiences beneath that inform and shape it. Beckwith’s script allows them to explore and interrogate the ambiguities of their bond in a way that feels comprehensive and real, without ever feeling like it’s about to cop out and have them fall in love – indeed, the movie has them make the point, albeit with nearly unrealistic levels of emphasis – of why this wouldn’t make sense. The film grows more broadly comic when pushing out to introduce other people in their lives, but never to the point of feeling distracting. Matt is assailed by members of his family who clearly don’t understand his situation, whereas the one fixed window into Anna’s world comes in the form of Jules (a hilarious Julio Torres), a co-worker who shares his thoughts on the latest developments in her life through a variety of eccentric opinions. These supporting characters are a lot less nuanced than either Matt or Anna, but the ensemble cast does good work with the material, and Beckwith’s direction is usually even-handed enough to keep things consistent.
When Together Together rolls on along these lines, it’s because the movie makes effective use of the room between where other stories would loudly communicate; the spaces between conversations, the uncertainty of unanswered questions, the knowledge that the characters are working through things and figuring stuff out. Beckwith’s script envisions that with wry humor and wisdom, and Helms and Harrison’s performances bring it to life with immense care. Because of this, it can be disappointing, or at least rather jarring, when the movie too consciously stops in the middle of scenes or arcs, seemingly unsure of where to go next and losing its way from the texture and rhythm it has otherwise so wisely built upon. It’s far better when it remains close to its heart: an examination of people searching for connections – in all forms, in all contexts – and the work that they have to do with each other to that end. It takes these two characters, searches through worlds that truly feel lived-in, and creates a journey that sidesteps clichés or closed-off resolutions.