By Richard Ades
I used to look down on the term “gentle comedy,” sarcastically defining it to mean “a comedy that isn’t very funny.” Together Together may have changed my mind.
Written and directed by Nikole Beckwith (whose previous film output is limited to 2015’s Stockholm, Pennsylvania), the flick lives up to both aspects of the genre. It’s sometimes really funny, and it’s always exquisitely gentle yet incisive as it orbits two people drawn together by both contractual requirements and emotional needs.
Matt (Ed Helms) is a 40-something man who’s tired of waiting for the perfect partner to come along before he can start a family. Anna (Patti Harrison) is a 20-something woman who answers Matt’s ad for a surrogate to bring to term the fetus formed by his sperm and an anonymous donor’s egg.
On paper, their duties are straightforward. Anna will give birth to the baby, then disappear as Matt begins experiencing the joys of fatherhood. But it’s all complicated by the months of shared responsibilities that must precede the birth, not to mention the years of pain and loneliness that brought each of them to where they are now.
We learn something about Matt’s unsuccessful attempts to find a life partner, and we learn more about Anna’s past traumas: While still a teenager, she got pregnant, had a son and gave him up for adoption. It’s an experience that interrupted her education and drove a seemingly permanent wedge between her and her family.
Ordinarily, a film that brings together a lonely man and an equally lonely woman is setting us up for a romantic connection, but Beckwith offers little hope for such a development. Instead, Matt and Anna establish boundaries, then cross them, redefine them and attempt to re-establish them as they stumble into something resembling friendship. But is any kind of friendship a good idea in a relationship that’s predestined to end after nine months?
The trickiness of their situation is explored in sometimes cringingly awkward scenes involving counseling sessions and such prenatal traditions as picking out a crib and hosting a baby shower. It’s also explored more hilariously in interactions with characters such as their sarcastic sonogram technician (Sufe Bradshaw) and Anna’s self-involved but occasionally perceptive co-worker (Julio Torres).
As welcome as the latter scenes’ laughs are, the film’s real source of joy is the delicate chemistry established by its two leads.
Helms’s Matt is an occasional blunderer whose heart nevertheless serves as a reliable rudder. Harrison’s Anna approaches life with a combination of amusement and determination that serves as an equally trustworthy guide. Together, despite their differences in age and temperament, the two sometimes manage to complement each other in ways that render their lives more bearable.
That makes the apparent temporariness of their bonding all the more bittersweet.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Together Together (rated R) is available in select theaters, including Central Ohio’s AMC Easton Towne Center 30, Cinemark Polaris 18 and Crosswoods 17. It will be available digitally beginning May 11.