Editor-in-chief Pihla Pekkarinen appreciates the friendship portrayed in a new American comedy.
Matt (Ed Helms) is a single man in his 40s, desperate to be a father. Anna (Patti Harrison) is a sarcastic, independent young woman determined to pursue her education. When Anna is hired as Matt’s surrogate, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. That would be how I would summarise the film on the back of the DVD case. But in reality, Together Together is much more than the quirky story of an unlikely pairing. It markets itself as the anti-rom-com, the platonic rom-com, and it does not disappoint. Together Together is an ode to platonic love, to unconventional friendships and relationships, to making nontraditional choices and being happy in them, to straight men genuinely wanting to be fathers.
The film is incredibly aware of the tropes of the genre, playing with them constantly. The mise-en-scene, the cinematography, and particularly the music all indicate to the viewer that we are in rom-com territory. Thematically and tonally, the film is a far cry from writer-director Nikole Beckwith’s first feature about a kidnapping (Stockholm, Pennsylvania). Despite this, she clearly knows what she is doing. Beckwith confidently and artfully manipulates the tropes of the genre to subvert our expectations at every turn. In an explicit ‘wink-nudge’ moment, Anna blames Woody Allen films as having ruined men’s expectations for the kind of women they could get, verbalising the audience’s undeniable expectation of a romantic relationship between the pair and asking us to question that expectation.
Together Together also subverts expectations in its very premise. It’s a story about a surrogacy where nobody is unsure, everyone is consenting throughout, etc. Matt really wants to be a dad, and Anna really wants to be a surrogate. The unconventionality of this narrative is briefly acknowledged by the pair: “Wait, you’re not changing your mind, are you?” “No, obviously not”. After that, it is only those around them — Matt’s parents, Anna’s family — who impose their own insecurities on their very secure partnership. But these unwanted opinions aren’t given much room in either the pair’s thoughts or in the narrative itself. The focus of the film is not really on other people, or even on the surrogacy itself, but primarily just on Matt and Anna and how they navigate their friendship.
Helms and Harrison both give good performances. Helms, in particular, has none of the uncomfortable air of a comedy actor who has reached middle age and turned to dramatic roles to avoid becoming the butt of the joke. Instead, his portrayal of Matt as a father-to-be is full of all the love, nerves, warmth and excitement you would expect from a new parent. But what really elevates the film is the wonderful chemistry of the central pair, who play off each other naturally and smoothly, giving off an air of authenticity often lacking in rom-com friendships. This chemistry is supported by well-paced writing: their friendship develops at a comfortable pace, fluctuating with time as Matt and Anna figure out their boundaries. Also worth noting is the film’s delightful cast of minor characters, most notably Tig Notaro in a bit part as the couple’s therapist, and Julio Torres as Anna’s annoying yet loveable coworker.
Together Together is not the film for a rom-com cynic. It’s a film for someone who loves the genre, but perhaps questions what kind of lessons it teaches us. It’s a film that encourages you to enjoy those films for what they are, but not get too caught up in the world they are trying to paint. And beyond that, Together Together values friendship in a way rarely seen on the big screen, and encourages you to treasure your friends no matter how long they stay in your life.