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Together Together Review: An Alternative Love Story

With its peculiar but heartfelt premise, "Together Together" is the rare indie dramedy whose narrow focus allows it to resonate deeply without overstaying its welcome. It's not exactly groundbreaking, nor will it bowl you over, but it's a movie that smartly dodges the pitfalls of genre convention to present a moving portrait of loneliness and connection.

In the film, writer/director Nikole Beckwith explores the intricacy of a fraught situation, a single man (Ed Helms) bonding with the surrogate (Patti Harrison) who is carrying the anonymous donor egg that will become his future child. There's an inherent awkwardness to the relationship that Beckwith initially mines for some light comedy. But while those intermittent bursts of cringe humor provide more subtle smiles than full-on laughter, the film doesn't truly come alive until it plunges deeper into the psyche of its respective leads and the profound emotions at the heart of this joint venture.

Matt (Helms) is the developer behind a depressingly popular app called Loner designed for similarly isolated individuals to feel a spark of human companionship. This strange product proves lucrative enough that he can afford to hire Anna (Harrison), a young woman equally cut off from any meaningful relationships in life, to have a baby for him.

The two are comically mismatched. Matt is self-conscious, polite to a fault, and more than a little overbearing where Anna is comparatively disarming and has her mind set on keeping as detached from the emotional weight of this task as humanly possible. But through the course of each act, conveniently split up into the trimesters of the pregnancy, the two find themselves forming an unlikely bond, one that (thankfully) transcends the strictures of a run-of-the-mill romance.

No ordinary love

When the central conceit at the heart of "Together Together" becomes clear, any viewer would be forgiven for prematurely groaning at the thought of Matt and Anna getting together by the film's conclusion. Beckwith's script smartly mimics the general structure of a romantic comedy, with a meet-cute swapped for a tense and uncomfortable interview scene, and various romcom-like plot complications grafted to the particulars of this odd scenario. Given the style and tone, one could be forgiven for worrying it might follow through on those narrative underpinnings to culminate in a deeply misguided conclusion to the film's latent "will they or won't they" energy.

Luckily, the film smartly dispenses with such tension by probing beyond those surface level concerns. Rather than a story of two people falling in romantic love and a narrative designed to keep them apart until the most dramatic possible moment, this is a story about two people engaged in a professional relationship who must navigate their connection while mitigating future pain.

At the heart of Matt and Anna's arrangement, there's an ironclad legal document to account for any of the potential hazards of a man and a woman (and an anonymous other woman providing an egg) coming together to have a child without a pre-existing relationship. For Matt, he wants a baby to fill the void in his life that failed romance and fair weather friendships have left. But he doesn't just want to wake up one day and have a baby in the nursery he's built. He wants to experience all the supportive papa bear tasks he would normally undertake in a more traditional pregnancy. He's read all the books and been to all the seminars and just wants to put it all to good, productive use.

This doesn't mesh well at all with Anna's approach. She can tolerate keeping up a food log, so Matt knows what the baby is technically consuming inside her stomach. But she's going to remind Matt how her dietary decisions only matter for the next nine months, while his are going to affect a lifetime. She's willing to smile politely when he brings her clogs with better arch support at her barista job, but she's not going to actually wear them. This pushback proves both necessary and transformative for Matt, a guy who has been on his own for so long he desperately needs a woman's perspective in his life.

But it's also indicative of how closed off Anna is to even the potential for a real connection. She's wrestling with so much baggage, from her own recent romantic failures to the pressures from her parents for her giving up a child in college. She's been hurt enough times that she doesn't want to risk forming a real bond with another baby she isn't going to keep, no matter how friendly the father is or how easy it would be to fall into that pattern.

The sweetest taboo

This being a movie, however, the longer these two deny that the pregnancy is forming a meaningful bond between them, whether they like it or not, the more certain it becomes that they have to accept it.

The film splits its runtime between semi-comedic scenes involving Matt and Anna out in the wild, quieter moments of getting to know one another on a more intimate level, and repetitive "check in" sequences, either with a couples therapist played by Tig Notaro or the prenatal tech (Sufe Bradshaw) who unwittingly performs a similar function while doing ultrasounds and the like.

Within these scenes, there's the occasional hiccup, like Matt becoming temporarily obsessed with Anna wanting to maintain casual dating and hook-ups before her baby bump prevents her from engaging in sex, or Anna freaking out after being surrounded by Matt's family at a baby shower and insisting things stay completely professional. But there are so many simpler and truly sweet moments that make up for those squabbles, particularly a charming moment when Matt pretends to be a customer at a clothing shop to give Anna an out from an awkward run-in with an old friend.

There's something just so endearing about the clumsy, earnest way Helms plays Matt. The role is better suited to his skills as a performer than any of his more mainstream acting work. But this is really a vehicle for Harrison's burgeoning star power. She already stole one of the best sketches from Netflix's "I Think You Should Leave," so seeing her range here as both a dramatic and comedic presence makes this film all the more special.

Because, really, it's Harrison and Helms' unique chemistry that sells the hat trick "Together Together" pulls off in its final moments, boldly closing on a moment so freeing and affecting that it sells the off-kilter love the film seems so set on expressing for the viewer. Audiences are hardwired by fanfic shippers and the romcom industrial complex to only accept platonic friendships onscreen if they're going to blossom into some kind of love affair. But this film explores an alternative, born of some outlier circumstances, that proves to be even more meaningful.