The 2007 film Knocked Up has an unexpected ending. The surprise isn’t in what happens—a baby is born— but rather in the tonal shift that takes place. After two hours of mostly very crude humor and general raunchiness, there’s a sudden turn towards gentleness, even sweetness. The film has an extraordinary amount of reverence for childbirth, and it makes room to find beauty and emotion in the delivery room. Yes, the characters have their issues, the film seems to say, but look at the compassion the comes when a new child is born, at this common human experience that transcends cultures and generations. It’s quite an ending.
Together Together, the latest from writer-director Nikole Beckwith, is a very different film than Knocked Up, but it does strike a similar chord with how it depicts pregnancy— as a process that’s beautiful despite any physical, emotional or relational messiness that may be surrounding it. The film opens just before Matt (Ed Helms) chooses Anna (Patti Harrison) as a surrogate for the child he hopes to father. Interestingly, Matt’s a single guy in his mid-40s planning to parent on his own. Anna’s on board with his plan, declaring in the opening scene, “If family is important to someone, they should be able to make one.”
What follows is a look at the ups and downs Matt and Anna experience in the unique relationship created by surrogacy. It’s an unusual bond that’s both personal and tied up in legal obligation, which naturally leads to a lot of awkwardness. One of the strengths of Together Together’s fantastic script is that it leans into that awkwardness and finds the comedy in it, while managing to maintain a sweetness and sincerity that only grows as the film goes on. The tone strikes an unusual balance; the films holds moments of fairly broad comedic charm alongside an almost mumblecore-esque hyper-realness in quieter moments, and that mix works surprisingly well.
That sincerity is due in large part to Anna, who isn’t afraid to call out the power dynamics of the situation early in the film and make it clear that she won’t be controlled. Patti Harrison is wonderful, giving a performance that is understated but extremely relatable. Anna is thoughtful and often reserved, but when vulnerable moments come they feel genuine thanks to Harrison’s grounded portrayal. Ed Helms is similarly grounded here, giving us his sweetest and most charming mode for most of the film. Both characters are exceedingly well-written, with their motivations and backgrounds gradually revealed over the course of the film in surprising and satisfying ways. Anna’s backstory in particular is one of the strongest aspects of the script.
Besides pregnancy, Together Together is also interested in another common human experience: friendship. Many viewers will likely come with rom-com expectations, but that’s not what they’ll get. The central relationship of this film is radically nonsexual, or rather, it’s nonsexual, and that feels radical. Why does it feel so revolutionary for a film to depict a platonic relationship between a man and a woman? It probably has to do with the overly romanticized and overly sexualized state of our movie industry and our world, but whatever the reason, it’s damned refreshing to see. Matt and Anna are also from different generations, roughly 20 years apart. That’s a source of tension at times, as well as comedy, but ultimately their age difference is a point in favor of keeping their relationship in the realm of friendship. (Matt and Anna even have a frank discussion about Woody Allen in one scene)
The film suffers a bit from abruptness, both in its writing and its editing. As strong as the script is, the beginning and the ending of this film could have both benefited from a bit more context. Instead, the film drops us into the action at the start and then leaves us without clear answers for the future. On the editing side, many scenes feel like they were cut down quite a bit and left me wanting more. And at just 90 minutes, it feels like the film could have taken a bit less hurried pace and fleshed things some more. So yes, my biggest complaint is that I wanted more movie. I would have been more than happy to spend some more time with these characters.
By looking at the unique undertaking of surrogacy, and by blending that story into a believable and grounded relationship dramedy, Together Together sets itself apart as one of the more memorable indies of the last few years. Nikole Beckwith shows a knack for crafting a good story, and as a relatively new filmmaker, her name has become one to follow. If you’re in the mood to watch something sweet and pleasant, look no further. Together Together will leave you charmed, delighted, and with your notions of family and friendship ever-so-gently challenged.
Together Together hits theaters April 23 and is available on-demand May 11.