Synopsis: When young loner Anna is hired as the surrogate for Matt, a single man in his 40s, the two strangers come to realize this unexpected relationship will quickly challenge their perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love.
Stars: Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, Rosalind Chao, Julio Torres, Tig Notaro, Nora Dunn, Fred Melamed, Sufe Bradshaw, Anna Konkle, Evan Jonigkeit, May Calamawy, Ellen Dubin
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: I don’t want you to run for the hills or race to the comment section when you read this next sentence, but here we go. In the realm of pregnancy films, it’s time men get their due. There, I said it, I stand by it, and now I’ll tell you why.
Over the years in countless films, the male members of the cast have served purposes that have largely reflected on the time the film was made. Early movies showed men as the sole breadwinner, the one that went to work all day and came home to a clean house with dinner on the table and the kids waiting to say hello before trotting off to bed. Then came the fight for gender equality resulting in fathers slowly taking on a more balanced piece of the household puzzle. When stay-at-home moms went back to work, the stay-at-home dad was born and a power balance shifted yet again. All stages of this were reflected in some part on screens big and small but one thing was always the same: the nuclear family and parenting, with ideas of men raising children on their own by their own choice almost unheard of. As the definition of “what makes a family” has changed, so have artistic representations of an even more detailed question, “what makes a parent?”.
That’s the question that seems to be a tiny jumping off point for understanding why a rare gem like Together Together is so welcome and important a release in 2021. Here we have a successful, stable, single-man approaching middle age (is mid ‘40s still considered middle age? I’d like a ruling on that.) who wants to be a father, hasn’t found the right woman, and decides to seek a surrogate to carry his child. While this situation is not uncommon, it’s not heard of as often as a woman making similar plans so the people the man meets throughout the film almost have to hear the news twice to understand what they’ve just been told.
Thankfully, writer/director Nikole Beckwith hasn’t set out to make an awkwardly educational film about gender norms and has instead crafted a genuine, heartfelt love story between two individuals that aren’t even a couple. Matt (Ed Helms, Vacation) is an app-designer who has hired barista Anna (Patti Harrison, A Simple Favor) to be his surrogate for the child he’s always wanted. In their first meeting, Beckwith stages Matt’s interview of Anna almost like a strange first date with him asking her questions and receiving the type of slightly off-the-mark responses that should be red flags but somehow seem less troublesome coming from the reserved but honest younger woman. It’s in this first scene that Helms and Harrison demonstrate a red-hot chemistry, not in a sexual way, but in that friendship rapport which is nearly impossible to capture quite like they have done.
As both navigate through the pregnancy, Beckwith approaches a number of familiar situations that might seem to be going one direction like every other baby comedy you’ve seen before, which the filmmaker then dovetails out of from the expected territory into new terrain at the last second. Even when it does fall back on some stale jokes and bits that have been chewed over before in other movies (remnants from previous iterations of the screenplay, I’m sure), the performers are so alarmingly charming that you sort of don’t mind they’re playing for laughs off of material way past its expiration date for originality.
I feel like I haven’t seen Helms a lot lately but it’s nice to find him back again and playing a regular guy that has some of the same fears and phobias all of us do that pass the big 4-0. It would have been simple for Beckwith to write Matt with more neurosis about his age and relationship status (and even easier for Helms to play these character blips) but by making him so middle of the road it makes him more relatable to everyone watching, no matter what gender you have assigned to yourself. The star turn here is clearly Harrison who I liked a lot more in this than I have in Hulu’s Shrill where she plays someone far more caustic and harder to warm to. Anna has quite the fleet of baggage to drag behind her and Harrison isn’t afraid to show that strain wears on her after a while. There’s a vulnerability to Anna that’s evident from the start and isn’t constantly hidden beneath a strong veneer, making the performance unique in its approach.
While Helms and Harrison are two fantastic leads, they have some serious competition from their supporting cast, starting with Sufe Bradshaw (Star Trek) playing their ultrasound nurse who seems to be all business, until it’s time to get real with the couple once she notices a change in their interactions. Bradshaw is assigned a similar version of the hilariously stern role she played in Veep but it’s the right choice for this observant character. The deadpan Tig Notaro (Lucy in the Sky) works her magic on the few scenes she appears in as a therapist with the surrogacy program meant to help Matt and Anna with any emotional support they need along the way. However, it’s Julio Torres that almost can’t help himself from stealing each and every minute of screen time he’s in as Jules, Anna’s moody co-worker. A former writer for Saturday Night Live, Torres achieves high levels of laughs for his hysterical one-liners and non sequiturs.
Clocking in at an ultra-trim 90 minutes, Together Together is one of the few movies you’ll hear me say I almost wish was a little longer. Almost. As it is, I think Beckwith has gauged the ebb and flow of the emotions of her characters correctly and timed a truly lovely and maybe even perfect finale to roll in at just the right time. If you don’t get paired up with Together Together now, trust that you’ll find your way to it eventually through word of mouth or by your favorite streaming service suggesting it to you. A winning combination of actors and script elevate this to a high recommendation.