Monday, January 17, 2022

Film: Together (Together) x 2

Together (c) Bleecker Street / Together Together (c) Bleecker Street

Together (Together) x 2 

Together on demand and Hulu 
Together Together on demand and Hulu 

Premise: In addition to “Swan Song” – two films in 2021 sharing the same name – we also got a movie called “Together” and a movie called “Together Together.” While they’re not the same title, they’re close enough, and both were released by the same company, Bleecker Street and are now playing on Hulu. The “Swan Song” films shared a common theme of a dying man wanting to preserve his legacy. The “Togethers” only share the main characters, a man and a woman who at the beginning of the film are not actually together but thrown together for different reasons. In “Together,” the two are exes who decide to move in together at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK for the benefit of their son, Artie. Unnamed except for he (James McAvoy) and she (Sharon Horgan), the couple really can’t stand each other as they narrate to the audience the story of their relationship via a vaguely filmed documentary concept like “The Office.” The movie starts in March 2020 with topics of conversation being the hoarding of food and toilet paper and ends about a year later where the talk turns to anger at how the UK government botched its response to the pandemic as well as possibly jumping the line to get the vaccine. In “Together Together,” the two people are actual strangers. Matt (Ed Helms) is interviewing Anna (Patti Harrison) as a possible surrogate for the child he wants to raise on his own. Anna, a barista who missed going to college but seems interested in going now, agrees to be the surrogate and the movie is mostly their relationship during the pregnancy, including predictable scenes of doctor visits and birthing classes, but there are also scenes as they try to (maybe?) become friends. 

My Take: Both films surprised me by being clever and more inventive than what their premise and trailer would suggest. 

Together Together (c) Bleecker Street

“Together Together” in no way feels like a realistic version of a surrogate story, incorporating sitcom tropes, with the not-too-subtle nod to “Friends,” a show Matt introduces to the much younger Anna. That said, I found the characters endearing and smarter than those in your average TV show. I have never been a fan of Ed Helms’ brand of “normal guy in crazy situations” humor, but here he is mostly grounded, and the comedy comes from more naturalistic settings. Patti Harrison’s deadpan reactions never get tiring, although when the story gets more serious towards the end, a little more emotional sharing from Anna would have been welcomed. Their relationship of always being together while not being “together together” is quaint without becoming predictable. This is director and screenwriter Nikole Beckwith’s second feature and it’s easygoing and funny without too many actual jokes. Her screenplay and Harrison’s lead performance were deservedly nominated for Independent Spirit Awards. The supporting cast also does a good job with the casual tone, especially Nora Dunn as Matt’s mother and Sufe Bradshaw as a technician in the doctor’s office. 

Together (c) Bleecker Street

There is no supporting cast in “Together,” except for the core he, she and Artie as this Stephen Daldry film was made during the pandemic, and the need for Covid protocols meant a smaller cast and crew. But unlike the insufferable “Malcolm and Marie,” which was also a two-hander pandemic production, “Together” benefits from an excellent script by playwright Dennis Kelly, who is most known for his book for the musical version of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda.” By having the ex-couple narrate their story to an unseen third person/therapist (maybe via Zoom?), they can bring up past arguments and stories without it feeling too out of place. The film starts out with the same initial premise as “Locked Down” (with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Anne Hathaway as the bickering couple), but Kelly doesn’t shy away from some touchier subjects as class, privilege and political responsibility as Horgan’s character’s mother is in a nursing home at the start of the pandemic. Daldry ends the film with of all things, a sea shanty (remember when that was a thing?), which can’t be an accident. There’s also a big revelation lifted from “Phantom Thread” that feels gratuitous, but this is mostly a smart movie that I was not looking forward to seeing but thoroughly enjoyed. Maybe the pandemic stuff didn’t feel so cliche as it took place in England, although the inadequate response from their political leader is so similar to ours that it produces the same anger. 

VIP. The four actors. While the actresses both do a good job, I don’t know their previous works (Horgan is most known for the TV show “Catastrophe” and Harrison for the TV show “Shrill,” neither of which I have seen), but they are great in their respective movies, especially when their stories turn darker. As I mentioned before, this is Ed Helms’ best movie performance (I can finally forgive him for his unwatchable turn in the remake of “Vacation”). But James McAvoy is the revelation here. He did some fine work early in his career (“Starter for 10,” the UK’s “Shameless,” “Atonement”) before his career was dominated by more genre fare (“X-Men,” “Split”). Here, using his natural Scottish accent, he makes this wealthy, conservative white guy loathsome before revealing a more soft, sympathetic side later on. His aubergine (what Brits call eggplant) monologue is probably the funniest McAvoy has ever been–his facial reaction after saying “carrots” (as in, the supermarket was even empty of carrots) is comic gold – and the punchline is so unbelievable that Horgan’s character reaction is shared by the audience. “[You have] the same level of charm as diarrhea in a pint glass.” I couldn’t agree more, and I loved it.

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