Women are expected to be mindful, no matter how much interest they express in ever wanting to actually have children, of nature's unforgiving and ever-ticking clock. In films like Baby Mama and Juno, we see the panic and sense of failure felt by women of a certain age, who cannot achieve pregnancy independently, as they turn to surrogates to begin the families they yearn for. This familiar narrative centres around the perspective of women longing to be mothers, defying nuclear family norms and ridiculous ‘expiration date' ideology as they head into parenthood without the support of a partner. Perhaps we forget, with the stereotypical perception of children being a woman's responsibility, that there are also men out there desperate to become fathers.
Tipping convention straight on its head comes Together Together, a surprisingly charming movie from writer and director Nikole Beckwith, which looks at the ‘expectation date' from a heterosexual male perspective, exploring the parental urge and closing window of opportunity from a less conventional angle. The film stars a calmer version of Ed Helms (he doesn't sing once) as Matt, a partnerless 40-year old app developer who is desperate to become a Dad. The film opens with a back and forth interview exchange between Matt and Anna, a 20-year old barista with a fabulous fringe and cutting, glass-half-full outlook on the world. After she wins his approval, successfully answering loaded questions like ‘what's the worst thing you ever did?' Anna soon becomes Matt's surrogate and, much to her reluctant dismay, his best friend.
Split into three trimesters, the film follows Matt and Anna throughout their pregnancy. At first, it seems our two protagonists come lifted straight from a Woody Allen picture, in which two quirky, out of step characters, despite their obvious differences and colossal age gap, fall madly in love and become husband and wife. However, Beckwith quickly dispels any notion of a romance as she tackles the status quo and the questionable tropes of rom-coms head-on, with Anna's character finding the idea of romance with a much older man, as seen in films like Allen's Manhattan, utterly gross. Beckwith tweaks gender roles too, with Matt's character becoming the worrier, chasing Anna around with comfortable shoes and pregnancy teas while he frets about what colour to paint the baby's room: ‘It's tough to pick a colour for a nursery because a lot is riding on it' he frets. Where Anna, on the other hand, is much more level headed, mocking Matt's boundary-pushing attempts to regulate her life and her diet: ‘I only matter for the next nine months or so, and you matter for the next eighteen years,' she reminds him coyly.
Yet, although they're anything but a match made in heaven, the unlikely duo bond through their shared loneliness and unsure footing—Anna's recovering from a dumping and dismal career prospects and Matt, by his own confession, feels completely alone. So, they are drawn together, but not together together. Over the course of the pregnancy, their lives intertwine, and they begin to share deep secrets, personal worries, and even a bed (platonic reasons only). Yet, the closer they get, the more obvious it is just how difficult it will become when their nine-month reason for being in one another's lives ends and the time comes for them to draw apart.
Together Together goes to great lengths to avoid the obvious route, with Beckwith choosing to defy the genre tropes she riffs on. During the second trimester, the pair's chemistry blossoms and they settle into a relationship shaped groove, becoming lovingly dependent on one another; it's almost as if Beckwith wants us to root for the pair to become a couple. Still, she never fully gives into that trope: Anna has things she wants to do with her life, she doesn't want to be a mother, and, most revealing of their incompatibility, she doesn't understand a single one of Matt's pop culture references. Although, in the moment, they are a seemingly perfect team, Beckwith makes it plain that the couple are anything but a couple. Instead, the film tells another kind of love story, one about friendship and what it can provide for you when you act selflessly and enjoy the ride, no matter how fleeting it might be. As, unfortunately, most friendships come with an expiry date. Pals who were once your entire world might turn into casual social media acquaintances overnight, becoming those people you check in with once in a blue moon out of guilt and nostalgia. Even Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler and Joey, as Matt and Anna learn when they finish binge-watching Friends together, had to move on eventually. Life moves fast, people come and go, and although they don't always last forever, it's friends who help you through.
Helms is a fantastic casting choice, being the perfect blend of pathetic, neurotic and gentlemanly. In any other movie, his character would be an absolute catch; here, he's still a great guy but just not the right one for our female protagonist. As a wannabe Dad, he is completely believable; he embodies a lesser-seen, paternal, tender and sensitive kind of man. He delivers all of the right notes, and it's great to see him scaled-down in a role that carries some emotional weight. Likewise, Patti Harrison, breaking further stereotypical tropes as a trans woman in a cis-gender role, is revolutionary. Her wry and sour take on her character allows her to build a captivating back and forth with her overly emotional co-star. Beckwith doesn't play any of this off for laughs; there's no punching down or cheap laughs in her script. Matt and Anna are fully actualised characters, reflective of a diverse number of people who don't fit into Hollywood's fairytale fantasy narratives. Plus. they're surrounded by scene-stealing characters such as Julio Torres as Jules, Anna's deadpan co-worker who delivers sharp back-handed compliments and hilarious, harsh truths at every turn; Sufe Bradshaw, a sarcastic nursing technician who doesn't want to get caught up in any of Matt and Anna's drama; and Tig Nigateto as the pair's exasperatingly understanding therapist.
Beckwith's attempts to do something fresh with the genre are commendable. Her snippy dialogue and relaxed, mumblecore approach make Together Together a cosy, heartfelt movie, which showcases what's possible for cinema as it continues to evolve. It's a film for when it hasn't been your day, your month or even your year.
Together Together will screen as part of Sundance London 2021 on July 31st