In Together Together, Ed Helms, much matured since his Hangover bacchanals, plays Matt, a lonely straight man stuck in a middle-age morass.
With no romantic prospects but desirous of a family, and as if feeling the tick of his own biological clock, he makes the unusual decision to father a child through a surrogate. That’s where Anna (Patti Harrison), a single woman 20 years his junior, enters the picture, offering her womb, and maybe her friendship, for compensation lofty enough to finally see her into college.
Sweet, novel and even enlightening, Nikole Beckwith’s sophomore feature resists clichés with a seeming effortlessness. If this were an ‘80s or ‘90s rom-com, where the nuclear family was still the aspirational endgame, sparks would fly between these untethered business partners, and audiences would buy it.
In Together Together, the prospect surfaces, but more as a point of philosophical discussion: Why is it so beyond the pale that we could be a couple, Matt wonders, after a baby-store employee is the latest person to make that false assumption? Anna promptly adds piercing perspective about their age gap: “So you would be OK with dating someone who was s—-ing in their diaper when you were getting your first hand job,” she says. “Or someone who couldn’t count when you were in college?” After Matt tries to protest, she adds, “I think you’ve watched too many Woody Allen movies.”
We’ve all watched too many Woody Allen movies, which is exactly the problem. Perhaps the most meta thing about Beckwith’s film is that it opens exactly like an Allen film — with credits in white Windsor typeface on a black screen — while proceeding to dismantle the lascivious conditioning that powers so many of them. And it isn’t the only uncomfortable topic Beckwith is eager to broach; this may be the first mainstream film to discuss the proper application of a tampon, something Matt, in raising a child as a single dad (they’ve decided to keep the baby’s sex a surprise), may need to learn.
Together Together also critiques gender double standards associated with single parenthood. When a single mom is raising a child, she’s a hard-luck case, deserving of our sympathy; when a man endeavors for the same, he’s practically a saint, deserving thanks for his service.
To an extent, Matt enjoys this societal privilege. Over-educated on parenting books and seeking to micromanage every aspect of Anna’s life — from her diet to, in the early stages of the pregnancy, her sex life — he occupies the space of needling father as much as new best friend. Yet Anna is virtually ignored at Matt’s baby shower, with all eyes focusing on her swelling belly. Beckwith seems to be asking, what is the surrogate, ultimately, but a dehumanized vessel, vital to the equation of parenthood but insignificant to its emotional calculus?
These are weighty questions for a 90-minute comedy, and Beckwith should be lauded for asking them. And it is a comedy, although one that is more wry than sidesplitting. If anything, the humor can be a bit too gnomic, but that could be just me: Together Together is woker than I am, though, like Matt, I’m getting there.
It’s so woke that Beckwith even cast a trans comedian, in the talented up-and-comer Patti Harrison, as Anna. If you didn’t know her sexual identity before watching the film, you’d never guess, which may be the most progressive thing about the movie. And if you did know, its ending becomes even more sublime than it already is.
TOGETHER TOGETHER. Director: Nikole Beckwith; Cast: Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, Tig Notaro, Nora Dunn, Fred Melamed; Distributor: Bleecker Street; Rating: R; Now playing at most area theaters