For a movie about the impending birth of a baby, Together Together is oddly lifeless. Written and directed by Nikole Beckwith, it tells the story of a friendship between a middle-aged single man, Matt, and his surrogate, Anna, a young woman who has agreed to bear his child for a fee. The film opens with Matt (Ed Helms) interviewing Anna (Patti Harrison) about her qualifications for surrogacy, and we quickly learn that the main requirement is a previous successful pregnancy. Matt is confused because Anna has no children of her own and in an awkward exchange, Anna reveals that she had a child in college but gave it up for adoption. This event, we later find out, was so disruptive that it completely threw Anna’s life off course and left her estranged from her family. She is pursuing surrogacy so that she can pay for college and finally finish her degree. Matt’s reasons for single parenthood are less clear, except that he seems to be a profoundly lonely person. Once, he was in a long-term relationship, but it didn’t work out–he never explains why, and Anna never explains why she decided to bear a child in college and give it up for adoption, although they haltingly ask each other these questions. It’s a script full of half-asked, half-answered questions, one that left me feeling very frustrated and sometimes bored.
The movie is divided into three trimesters, using the natural drama of pregnancy to shape the screenplay. The story itself is about how Matt and Anna will navigate their unusual relationship, which is both intimate and transactional. Matt’s instinct is to care for Anna, whose estrangement from her family is concerning to him. She also doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends. Anna’s instinct is to set firm boundaries because she doesn’t want to get overly attached to Matt or the baby she’s carrying. Although the script plays with rom-com tropes, it’s obvious–and relieving–that the movie isn’t about Matt and Anna falling in love. Instead it’s about them finding a way to relate to each other in a way that is loving but not prescriptive. There’s a warm humanity at the heart of this movie, and Helms and Harrison are lovely together, but it’s dulled by a lack of specificity, both in the screenplay and the art direction. Matt and Anna live in remarkably well-decorated spaces, looking like pages from a West Elm catalog. Matt’s I could believe–maybe he has a decorator and a cleaner–but why would Anna have so much nice stuff at age 26, when she’s broke? And where are all her new, on-trend clothes coming from? Why is her make-up always perfect, even when she wakes up in the middle of the night with false labor pains?
I wouldn’t be so nit-picky about the sets and costumes if the script were more detailed, but I was so desperate for information about these people that I was looking everywhere. We never find out why Anna gave up her child for adoption and we don’t learn much about Matt’s past, either. We see a few of Matt’s friends and family, but Anna doesn’t seem to have friends outside of her job at the coffee shop. We get a hint of what she wants to study in college–hospitality, but no clue as to why she has chosen that, other than the fact that she works in a coffee shop and she must like it? I honestly couldn’t tell if Matt, an app designer, is still working, or if he’s living off the spoils of his most successful creation, a bizarre dating app called “Loner.” I wanted to have some sense of the texture of his and Anna’s daily routine, and to get a glimpse of their lives apart from each other, and apart from worrying about the baby, but most of the scenes include the two of them and have something to do with the pregnancy: doctor’s appointments, support groups, couples therapy, birthing classes, etc. These scenes were often populated by recognizable comedians, and were slightly more satirical in tone, but birthing classes and couples therapy are pretty well-trodden territory and there wasn’t a lot of innovation in the material. I would have traded most of those scenes for something showing Anna with an old friend or Matt and his parents–who we see briefly in a couple of too-short scenes depicting Matt’s social life.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the subtlety of Beckwith’s storytelling. There were times when I thought her choices were meant to convey emotional realism, but at other instances, the writing seemed to shy away from anything prickly or uncomfortable. Sometimes Beckwith seemed to go out of her way to avoid emotion or anything that might be perceived as dramatic flair. Even the generic set and costume choices seemed, in a way, designed to deflect attention. At best, I felt that Beckwith was trying to give space to her actors and to let their relationship and interpersonal dynamic carry the story. To their credit, Helms and Harrison’s unguarded performances do go a long way. But it wasn’t enough for me, and I left the movie feeling as if I had learned very little about the two people who filled my screen for 90 minutes.