“Together Together” is an offbeat comedy that sets out to redefine “intimacy” for a “woke” and lonely age.
A pre-pandemic romantic/”unromantic” comedy, it has the currency of a Woody Allen takedown and a clever way of warily circling any notion of a May-October romance. But what stands out in writer-director Nikole Beckwith’s first attempt at comedy (“Stockholm, Pennsylvania, a thriller, was her debut) is a pre-pandemic sense of isolation. It revels in the quiet despair of disconnection and the sheer relief at being forced to reckon with someone and get along with them well enough to finally get to know them.
In Matt, a 40something man who has decided that he wants a family even if relationships seem to evade him, Ed Helms has a role right in his sad but hopeful, eager but clumsy wheelhouse. Since he broke out in “The Office,” that’s been his brand — a hangdog who always tries too hard, a misguided, tone-deaf “enthusiast.”
And relative newcomer Patti Harrison — she was in “A Simple Favor” — sparkles as Anna, the aimless young barista who passes Matt’s awkward questionnaire, signs on the dotted line and takes the money.
“If ‘family’ is important to someone, you should be able to make one,” she reasons. And less tactfully, “I know it’s not the best thing in the world, being alone.“
But the first glimpse at the Anna beyond the contract in that early meeting is what sells Matt. Anna reveals her ultimate, intimate qualification. She had a baby in high school.
“I do know what it’s like to carry a baby, and then give it up.”
There’s no judgment in saying that single line is freighted with sadness. We don’t need to know she’s now estranged from her family, because she is. We don’t need to see her checkbook to pick up on her needing cash. And we don’t need to ponder her sense of self-worth, because she’s 26 and has already done the math of what she has that’s most valuable about her at this stage in her life — her uterus.
“Together Together” is about his buying her “gifts” that are actually for a baby she won’t keep, or to ensure that she drinks the right teas, eats the right diet and maybe has comfortable shoes as she starts carrying around extra weight in a job that keeps her on her feet.
He’s micromanaging, another Ed Helms “enthusiast” character. It takes Anna a while to start pushing back, to belatedly establish boundaries.
We learn bits and pieces of Anna’s story, but even the hardest question she can ask Matt seems beyond answering.
“Why are you alone?”
Beckwith decorates this tale with a deadpan “couples” therapist Matt insists they see (Tig Notaro, on the mark), a droll nurse/tech at the OB-GYN office (Sufe Bradshaw, whose eyerolls are all implied) and Anna’s over-sharing, chatterbox gay barista coworker (Julio Torres).
The only parents involved are Matt’s, with Nora Dunn as his rude, judgmental mother and Fred Melamed as the Dad who divorced her, and whose tactlessness at least comes from a kinder place, like Matt’s.
The ebb and flow of the Anna/Matt connection and the emotional distance it’ll take for her to go through with their planned clean break makes a fascinating, if chilly, do-si-do for these two to square dance.
And the “romance” structure of “Together Together” gives the film a sweet sense of longing, even if a guy having to force a woman to watch “Friends” with him underscores “She’s too young for you, sport.”
But that “Friends” choice gives away this slight but thoughtful comedy’s intentions as surely as their almost-funny first meeting 88 minutes earlier. It might not wholly succeed, but Beckwith’s “Together Together” is wrestling the word “relationship” away from wherever it is now and back to a simpler time, when “I’ll be there for you” meant something, and not just to Phoebe, Joey, Chandler & Co.
MPA Rating: R for some sexual references and language
Cast: Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, Tig Notaro, Nora Dunn, Julio Torres, Rosalind Chao and Fred Melamed.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Nikole Beckwith. A Bleecker St. release.