Sundance Review: Together Together
Early in Together Together, 40-something Matt (Ed Helms) and his 20-something surrogate Anna (Patti Harrison) sit side-by-side in their inaugural couples’ therapy session, apparently just hours after first hearing the baby’s ultrasonic heartbeat. Matt gushes. A bit more monotonously, Anna says she is “happy that he’s happy.”
“But you’re happy, right?”
“Yeah, that’s what I said, I’m happy that you’re happy.”
It’s a small moment that reflects both what Together Together could have been, and happily, what it turned out to be. Playing initially like a buddy comedy about an unlikely friendship, Nikole Beckwith’s sophomore effort spits small comedic moments at a rat-a-tat pace in its opening salvo. This brief, hardly therapeutic interaction relies on the dichotomy between Matt’s exuberance and Anna’s droll disengagement to drum up yet another chuckle from the audience. If the film had continued in this path, it would have ended up a pleasant, forgettable entry in a long canon of cute Sundance flicks.
But with the assistance of her two leads, writer-director Beckwith elevates Together Together into a true two-hander, moving from quirky to melancholy and back with ease. The film interrogates the loneliness of societal isolation - both self-imposed and otherwise - from two wildly different perspectives. Matt is getting older, wants a baby, and lacks a partner - he’s “sad about what he wants and doesn’t have, and sad about what he has and doesn’t want.” Anna voluntarily cut herself off from a family that never stopped judging her for a single decision from her youth.
The magnetic push-and-pull between this strange pairing powers Together Together. It’s not just that the duo is unlikely. It’s that, according to conventional wisdom on surrogacy, it’s ill-advised. Matt moves closer to connect with his baby; Anna pulls away to maintain emotional distance from a family she cannot have, a child that is not hers. And yet the physical exigencies of the relationship keep them swirling around each other, their days filled with frustration that slowly morphs into affection, moments of awkward humor that shift into those of genuine heart. Through all of it, Beckwith never loses focus on Matt and Anna as individuals.
The final image of Together Together is a powerful, telling one. As Anna has Matt’s baby, Beckwith’s camera remains trained on her face, even in those oft-valorized first moments after birth. Exhausted, we see Anna’s face run through an impossible mix of emotions, while off-screen we hear Matt’s ethereal joy along with his baby’s first cries. The sound of a new father accompanying the face of his surrogate is a wholly appropriate finale to a deceptively deep film on such a complicated relationship.
“I’m happy for him.”
Anna repeats a version of her earlier line at their final couples’ session before delivery. This time the smile that accompanies it is sad rather than wry. She looks at Matt, not at their shared therapist. It’s glaringly obvious that her earlier comments weren’t sprung from disinterest, but from the attempt to appear so for fear of becoming too invested in a baby that’s not hers. But by now it’s too late. And that’s okay, even though it isn’t. It was Anna’s choice to defy the collective wisdom of surrogacy books and classes. It’s a moment of such bittersweet joy and pain that the simple phrase nearly tore a gash in my tear ducts.
This time Matt doesn’t ask if she’s happy, because he doesn’t need to.