I'm not sure that I've ever seen Ed Helms be better than he is in writer/director Nikole Beckwith's sublime and satisfying Together Together, a surprisingly soulful dramedy that affords Helms the opportunity to put on full display his broad spectrum of acting that often runs parallel to the more neurotic absurdity we've come to expect from the quietly beloved actor.
The film premiered in competition at Sundance and now prepares for its indie release with Bleecker Street, an ideal home for a comedy that ought not be a hard sell but probably will be anyway. Helms is Matt, a single loner in his 40s who has decided to become a parent the old-fashioned way - by hiring the mother. In this case, his gestational partner to be is 26-year-old Anna (Patti Harrison), whose entire aura is that of a complicated soul seemingly in search of something she never quite seems to find.
While this is likely Helms's best work to date, Harrison might actually be the film's true revelation.
You fall in love with Anna almost immediately. She's remarkably funny in the way that you know there's something underneath that funny. Harrison undoubtedly finds her inner workings and there's soulful wonder in just about every look, every gesture, and every moment that Anna is on screen.
This is not really a story we haven't seen before, though Beckwith brings it to life far better than most and adds layers of realism that give it an emotional resonance that somehow makes its humor feel like it means something.
If you're deadset against the whole surrogacy scene, there's nothing in Together Together that will change your mind. In fact, you'll likely flinch more than a little bit in scenes where Matt realistically takes his neurotic self a little too far and gets a bit control freakish, played for gentle but realistic laughs, whether Anna's drinking tea or, gasp, having sex.
There's never really a moment when I didn't enjoy Together Together, a film that taps into far greater issues than are seen on the surface and a film that deals with these issues insightfully, intelligently, and realistically.
If you've ever seen Harrison's work before, then you already know she possesses wild range and relentless commitment. Unless you already know it, you'll likely never realize Harrison is a trans actress playing a woman undeniably defined by her cisness. Helms and Harrison are remarkable together, two awkwardly lonely souls with both possessing a vulnerability that aches and makes you laugh. We meet them during their surrogate interview, an interview that tells us just about all we're going to get to know about Anna for a while and likely all we need to know about Matt. Harrison's Anna is guarded, reasonably so, but witty and curious and searching.
If this were a traditional rom-com, Matt and Anna would eventually make sweet and fall in love.
This isn't a traditional rom-com, though along the way it often feels like one. It's a film that transcends true definition because, well, I think the whole point is that love and friendship and family aren't things easily defined. The same is true for gender and bodies the ways we live physically into our lives. I was hesitant at first to even mention Harrison being a trans actress because in most ways it is irrelevant to the character, but the truth of it adds another layer to the wonder that is Together Together because of everything that says about the expansiveness of how we live our lives.
There are times you simply can't help but ache for Anna, though Harrison gives her such a remarkable sweetness that I found myself falling in love with her, platonically of course, over and over and over again.
You wanted her to be okay. I was like "Please, let her be okay."
There are scenes that are so perfectly timed by Beckwith that you realize how masterful this script really is. A Woody Allen conversation, for example, arises to deepen the the feelings we have as moviegoers when we start to think "Ah yes, here we go. They're going to fall in love."
Beckwith adds in other little touches, from words to visual cues, that are strokes of genius for those who catch them.
They sure won't be shared here.
Helms? Helms taps into a level of vulnerability we've rarely seen. There's one scene toward film's end as he experiments with ways to feed his soon to be baby that had me, quite honestly, in tears.
Then I laughed again.
Music by Alex Somers is wonderful. Frank Barrera's lensing is simple yet masterful as he catches the film's broad humor and transparent vulnerability with equal dignity and focus. Annette Davey's editing work allows us to linger with characters and to, quite often, let us spend an extra second or two as we process what they process.
Together Together is a wonderful little film featuring a breakout performance from Patti Harrison and a best yet turn from Ed Helms along with strong supporting work by the likes of Tig Notaro, Rosalind Chao, Nora Dunn, and others. The film opens in limited release on April 23rd followed by a May 11th streaming release.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic