Movie Review: Katie Holmes and Jim Sturgess experience the and downs of a Pandemic Romance — “Alone Together”

Katie Holmes “Alone Together” is the latest, almost certainly not the last of the “pandemic makes strange bedfellows” dramas and romances inspired by and filmed during lockdown.

Tenderly-conceived, tastefully-directed, handsomely-mounted and prestigiously-cast, its a drama that runs up against the wall of over-familiarity and the ceiling of expectations. Even without being the umpteenth version of this sort of film to come out, it’s pretty bland going.

Holmes plays a New York journalist, unpanicked by the looming lockdown because her long-time boyfriend has booked them an AirBnB in the country to ride out this “two week” global shutdown.

But while the Manhattan streets may be poetically empty and her cell charged so that she can take care of a few last details, there are roadblocks. The subways aren’t running. She gets a message that her beau is staying to take care of his parents, instead of escaping to the country. One long Lyft-ride later, there’s no key at the AirBnB.

And then the door opens and there’s a stranger already booked in the roomiest two story/one-bedroom/single-bath in the history of American suburban housing. June’s litany of complaints and snap judgements about Charlie (Jim Sturgess) prompt that pithiest of New York privilege put-downs.

“Upper West Side?”

A simple act of kindness later, she’s got a place to crash. He’ll “take the couch.”

What are the chances that a New York food critic and a motorcycle restorer can find Love in a Time of COVID?

Holmes, who has grown up on films sets, turns out to be an almost effortlessly graceful screen storyteller. As with her directing debut (“All We Had”), the polish is here even if the source material lacks much bite.

She layers her story with historical details we all remember, from the little moments of humanity among even hardened, crusty New Yorkers (not the panhandlers, alas) and the daily news briefings from bluff Governor Andrew Cuomo which play as the audio backdrop to their isolation, to the nightly symphony of pots and pans played by the locked-in of many cities around the world, showing appreciation for medical workers and demonstrating “I’m still here” to their neighbors and themselves.

The “end” of lockdown is boiled down to a single image — a discarded mask on a New York city street.

Our writer-director stages a reprise of her finest big screen performance in talking her “Pieces of April” co-star Derek Luke into sharing the screen with her again, this time as the lover “who doesn’t want to be with me in the middle of a f—-g pandemic.”

She landed Sturgess and Oscar winner Melissa Leo to play his character’s mother.

But what’s missing here the friction that would make this compelling, or at least something beyond passably interesting. It’s a mistake Shakespeare made Job One for all romances and rom-coms when he wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” The conflict here is muted, brushed-aside and papered-over.

Sure, it’s cute that the only place these two folks trapped together can find to serve them (take out, eaten in his ancient Mustang II in the parking lot) is McDonald’s. We all figured that out quickly enough. Making too little out of the fact that a vegetarian food critic is reduced to that is a laugh or two missed.

There have been big budget/big star versions of this sort of story that didn’t work any better than Holmes’ directing debut. But that’s little consolation. At this point, if it’s not as edgy, funny or romantic as “Seven Days,” there’s not much point to any “Alone Together” tale.

Rating: R, for language (profanity) and adult situations

Cast: Katie Holmes, Jim Sturgess, Derek Luke and Melissa Leo

Credits: Scripted and directed by Katie Holmes. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:41

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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