Review: In 'Together Together' with Patti Harrison and Ed Helms, family is a funny thing
Who gets to have a family? "Together Together" wants you to think about it when you're not laughing.
Poke around for deets on writer-director Nikole Beckwith’s radiant film and you’ll see chatter about it being an anti-rom com, which it is. But there’s much in this indie dramedy to warm those long left cold by American cinema’s tried-and-untrue formats. The film, starring Patti Harrison and Ed Helms, hit theaters on April 23.
Matt (Helms), a man in his 40s who works as an app developer, wants to start a family. He’s single. It’s just … nothing has worked out. When the film opens, he’s interviewing 20-something Anna (Harrison) to possibly be his surrogate. She moved to town with her boyfriend, but he’s gone, and she doesn’t talk to her family.
There are rules to surrogacy. It’s a business arrangement, and it has the potential to be a messy business. But as it turns out, Matt and Anna both could use friends, and “Together Together” charts what that type of platonic relationship looks like when there’s a baby involved.
Beckwith’s movie instantly enters the “found family” pantheon. That term — for the people you choose as your nearest and dearest, not the ones you were born with — is a pillar of queer life. Not that it’s a concept exclusive to that community, but for people who often find themselves rejected by blood by their own nature, it’s a lifeline. (If you prefer, this is the same thing as the “logical family” of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” universe.)
To me, that idea is where to find the barely hidden superpower of “Together Together,” a film that on its surface is about two probably heterosexual people engaged in the act of (scientifically arranged) reproduction: It is queer as all get out.
First, if you want to use a very liberal definition of queer, Matt and Anna’s relationship fits the bill; there’s nothing orthodox happening there. But if you like to peel into the subtext of the movies you watch during a Sunday matinee at the mall (you are this far in, kiddo) there’s plenty of harbor to find for those whom typical meet-cute stories give no ground.
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In my favorite part of “Together Together” — lil’ spoilers ahead — Anna tells Matt about how her family never looked at her the same way again after something that happened in high school. She had to leave, she explains, because the only way her family would be happy is if Anna were desperately unhappy. This dynamic follows her around like a phantom that only sometimes makes tangible contact. A family friend she runs into at a maternity store who has no idea what went down. A strained voicemail she does not return.
Matt disrupts everything that men learn they’re supposed to be. He’s alone, he's nurturing and he’s living out a life that his parents (Nora Dunn and Fred Melamed, hell yeah) don’t understand.
There are even more threads to pull at: Harrison, a transgender woman, playing a cisgender woman working as a surrogate, or the very presence of “Los Espookys” star Julio Torres as Anna’s scene-stealing coworker Jules, who is dating two men with the same name.
And "Together Together” is the truest of dramedies. It’s a comedy-lover's dream; in addition to Harrison and Torres, peep Tig Notaro, Jo Firestone, Greta Titelman, Anna Konkle and Sufe Bradshaw. Its moments of vulnerability are earned, too, and often devastating. When I say that I hope Harrison, a comedian best known for material I would be fired for repeating here, deserves awards consideration on the strength of this film’s final shot, I am dead serious.
Beckwith has bent movie tropes to her will. “Together Together” is all the more generous for it.
Starring: Patti Harrison, Ed Helms, Julio Torres, Tig Notaro
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Rated: R for language and some sexual references
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Watch: In theaters