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Together Together is like one of those relentlessly positive people you meet and immediately hate because you don’t believe their niceness is for real. Then you get to know them better and discover their positivity isn’t exactly a pose. It’s a choice to get through the day. The film by writer-director Nikole Beckwith, about the friendship between a single man and his pregnancy surrogate, at first feels as pleasant as a feature-length Febreze commercial. Almost unbearably pleasant. But it won me over when I realized its kindness isn’t an affectation; it’s a meaningful choice.
Matt (Ed Helms) and Anna (Patti Harrison) are strangers until she applies to be his surrogate. “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” he asks at the interview. “That’s private,” she says, establishing her boundaries immediately. Anna reveals that she was pregnant once before and had given up the child for adoption. “I thought all the applicants had to be either raising children or had raised them,” Matt asks. Anna replies, “Technically, the requirement is you have to have had a kid … which I have.” It’s the most personal job interview ever. Any other movie would play these moments for cringe comedy, but Beckwith avoids the temptation. The characters tell themselves this is a perfectly normal thing to be doing, and we believe them. They don’t click as people, but that’s not a problem; it’s a business relationship, not a marriage.
Of course, as these two lonely souls go through such an intimate process, a bond forms. Together Together smartly avoids the obvious path of romantic entanglement, even as Matt and Anna find themselves doing all the things a couple might do, like shopping for a crib or attending joint therapy sessions. They share intimate details about their lives, and, yes, we assume Matt is into Anna because she’s young and beautiful and carrying his child. He freaks out when she sleeps with a guy she just met, inching them closer to a forced romantic intimacy. But Anna doesn’t want that, which she makes clear with a well-timed rant about the films of Woody Allen. They’ll just be friends, and only for nine months.
Beckwith wisely creates her own boundaries, ensuring we never pin our hopes on an unrealistically happy ending. To do this, she creates a world that seems to snuff out any romantic spark. Together Together features bright, airy vision of contemporary Los Angeles totally devoid of primary colors, which, as we all know, have a tendency to stir up passions. All the walls are white, and all the accents are pastels. The only score is a simple, bright solo piano, plinking out pleasant melodies. It’s hard to imagine even thinking about sex in such a tranquil setting. Drama arises when the hard lines of their friendship are reaffirmed—most notably at the baby shower Matt throws for himself, where Anna is treated more like a petri dish than a woman—but it resolves without shouting or crying. The film has the feel of a well-run therapy session, where all disputes are resolved using the most polite language, not at all how people talk in real life.
This mood requires a specific kind of acting from its leads, who must be both likeable and compelling without ever revealing too much of themselves. Helms, an immensely agreeable presence, fits right in, but Harrison is the revelation as a woman whose actual job requires her to both hold it all together while managing an emotional tidal wave. She has a timid voice and innocent eyes, but she’s firm when she needs to be, and her character transforms from a woman held back by her past to one bravely embracing her future.
Ultimately, Beckwith leaves the viewer with a portrait of an unorthodox partnership that works because of its clear and present boundaries. Matt and Anna love each other, obviously. They trust each other. They never ask more of each other than the other is willing to give. While you might find yourself yearning for drama or romance, it’s a pleasure to simply watch two adults be so respectful towards each other. The film frames surrogacy between two mature participants as an ideal relationship, with rules that can be bent but never broken.
Together Together opens April 23 at Angelika Film Center Mosaic and Cinema Arts Theatre and on VOD platforms May 11.