A rare, winning platonic love story

Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in Together Together

Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in Together Together
Photo: Darkened images

Note: The writer of this review has looked Together together on a digital screener from home. Before you decide to see it – or any other movie – in a movie theater, consider the health risks. Here is an interview on the matter with scientific experts.

There’s a running joke about binge-watching Friends in the sweet, lovable, slightly subversive indie comedy Together together. It’s not quite a knee slapper – the movie uses a ’90s primetime phenomenon that has become short for basic pop cultural taste as an easy way to bridge the generation gap between two people growing closer. Intentional or not, the joke especially underscores just how much writer-director Nikole Beckwith drifts towards sitcom territory while still passing by the platitudes of shows more formal than NBC’s mega hit. Maybe in the end it’s just an exceptionally simple way to wire up some Together together really about: This is a portrait of strictly Platonic love – of strangers who become friends, sometimes while watching Friends.

The main characters are total strangers at first. We meet them as they meet. Matt (Ed Helms), an app designer in San Francisco, is 45 and single and wants to have a baby. Anna (Patti Harrison), the barista he interviews, is 26 and single and applies to become his surrogate mother. Anna gave birth to a child while still in high school and gave it up for adoption. Many of the women who go through this process have raised a child, Matt notes during their initial interview. But why should that matter, Anna replies politely – if anything, she knows what it’s like to carry a child she doesn’t want to keep. Regardless, being a middle-aged bachelor, Matt doesn’t quite fit the usual surrogacy profile either. He’s alone, as Anna blurts out and then walks back self-consciously during their meeting-cringe – a sharply cut opening scene that sets the uncomfortable tone and efficiently captures the dynamics between the two.

For a while it’s all tortuous social discomfort. Early interactions are skewed as the nervous Matt proves to be overbearing in his monitoring of Anna’s diet and sex life, the dialogue gets squarely inside The office star comfort zone of stilted chatter and passive aggression. But while these respective loners loosen up a bit, the movie does, to. Together together is almost a doppelganger in how often it is common for Matt and Anna to be on the list alone while renegotiating the boundaries of an intimate relationship and professional, and which is starting to take the form of something more. They develop a warm rapport, reinforced by the chemistry between two actors who take the opportunity to deepen their resumes. Harrison, a reliable punchline machine on the small screen (her I think you should leave sketch is unforgettable), wedges vulnerability between the cracks of her dry humor. And Helms hammers hard on his signature tense dork routine, to a surprisingly poignant (and understated) effect. They go together nicely, these moonlit comedians.

The relationship never threatens to turn into a romance. In fact, Together together arguably goes overboard by allay viewers’ concerns about that possibility, with a discussion of age-appropriate dating and Woody Allen. (If the film’s font choices, cozy cafe backdrops, and abundance of big-city chatter vaguely remind one of the filmmaker’s disgraced high-profile romantic comedy, Anna’s scathing critique of his classics loudly preys on everyone. assure Beckwith is not a fan). When Matt and Anna finally get the “LWord, it’s a moving and almost casually expression of non-amorous intercourse. The film cautiously circumvents expectations in other respects as well. There’s no exhibit scene that explains too much why Matt hasn’t found anyone, why he’s ready to start parenting as a single dad. And as it eventually becomes clear, the danger of separation anxiety that hangs over the film has nothing to do with the baby growing inside Anna; it’s the imminent chance that the expiration date is also an expiration date for the unexpected bond she forged with the father.

That’s what’s ultimately moving, and even a little complicated, about this Sundance selection: it’s an ode to how even transitory relationships can have profound meaning. Together together only falters when it creates an unwelcome continuity between its own seriocomic material and the 10 seasons of networking tendencies that tear Matt and Anna through three trimesters. The margin of the movie is filled with a line of funny killers people – Tig Notaro! Fred Melamed! Nora Dunn! Sufe Bradshaw! – and yet they all seem to occupy a somewhat zanier comic universe, with the story periodically moving to the sitcomish incident and improvise banter. It almost feels like stacking on the deck, designed to make us crave the moments when our hero and heroine simply fall into a scene alone, with no loud comic backup to distract from their booming Gen X millennial compatibility. But maybe that’s the gist of how deep, truly life-changing friendships make us feel: When you’re with the one you love platonically, the rest of the world just gets in the way.