When I was younger, I loved watching romantic comedies. I would watch the love story unfold, the tension and anticipation building until the magical moment when everything clicked into place and the two leads rode off into the sunset together. I believed that every couple was Meant To Be, relishing in every foot-popping first kiss and feeling almost giddy with the knowledge that true love had prevailed yet again.
But as I’ve gotten older, something has changed. I no longer view romantic narratives with the same blanket admiration; instead, I find that some romances are not worth rooting for. I’ve started noticing when romantic connections feel forced or manufactured, or when something, like a significant age difference, spoils the appeal.
Once or twice, I’ve even found myself hoping that a film ends not with a momentous kiss, but instead with a heartfelt hug or a hearty handshake. However, because Hollywood is so predictable in its use of romantic structure, the couple that I don’t approve of always ends up making out on screen, and I always end up disappointed.
“Together Together” is not the typical rom-com, although it may have the setup of one: Anna (Patti Harrison, “Shrill”) agrees to be a surrogate for Matt (Ed Helms, “The Office”), a man who she’s never met before, in order to use the money to put herself through school. Although their relationship begins purely based around Lamp — the gender-neutral filler word they use to talk about the baby — their connection soon begins to grow as they bond over food, “Friends” and loneliness. In this way, “Together Together” presents a refreshing alternative to tired romantic tropes in a love story where the love is purely platonic.
The story is told in three acts, delineated by the three trimesters of pregnancy. The first trimester is an introductory stage, where the two characters navigate conflicts, disagreements and awkward silences. In the second trimester, things begin growing into a comfortable sense of friendship. In the third, the development of strong, complex emotions creates an understanding of the impact that this is going to leave on both of them. Like most love stories, you see exactly where it is going — the film follows a sort of “boy meets girl” kind of pattern that is typical of the genre. But predictable does not mean bad — watching their relationship form is just as gratifying, even though you know that it’s coming.
Right off the bat, Matt and Anna have an energy that is charmingly awkward and brilliantly entertaining. Matt is eager and open, while Anna is sarcastic and guarded; despite this, the two of them share a bluntness that is refreshing and often hilarious. The chemistry between Matt and Anna, while entirely non-romantic, is intoxicating: A scene near the beginning of the film, for example, where Anna helps Matt pick paint swatches for the baby’s room is incredibly subtle, but inexplicably beautiful.
“Together Together” has a number of strengths that set it apart. The script, for one, is brilliantly done. Writer-director Nikole Beckwith (“Stockholm, Pennsylvania”) does an excellent job of finding humor in blunt declarations, awkward silences and human quirks while still hitting strong emotional notes throughout the film.
Beckwith also does a great job weaving social commentary into the fabric of her narrative — commentaries on everything from gender norms to Woody Allen feel natural and relevant. In particular, a conversation in which Matt, who is single, mentions to Anna that all books for single parents are targeted toward single moms, divorced dads or widowers raises some really interesting questions about how we think about gender roles and parenting.
The film also boasts some brilliant performances. Helms and Harrison are delightful together, creating a charming dynamic through witty conversations and nonverbal communication. Harrison in particular is an actress to look out for in the future: Besides having outstanding bangs, her performance as Anna is exceptional, a perfect balance of humor and emotion. The film’s comedian cameos — another rom-com staple — include Tig Notaro (“One Mississippi”) and Anna Konkle (“PEN15”) as fun additions to the cast.
But so much of the film is about shifting the typical rom-com elements — even the score, which features lilting piano lines that oscillate between pensive and jovial. During a Q&A session following the film, Beckwith explained how the film’s score was a deliberate choice: “We wanted to use predominantly piano because that is the kind of sound of these classic rom-com, Nora Ephron-style movies that we were kind of both paying a nod to and also subverting the expectations (of).”
Within the context of the nod and the subversion, “Together Together” includes characteristically quirky side characters, but with uncharacteristic insight. For example, Jules (Julio Torres, “Los Espookys”), Anna’s coworker, whose deadpanned delivery of hysterical lines (a personal favorite being “I’m dating two people named Sam, how could I be judgmental?”) had me laughing every time he opened his mouth.
Importantly, though, Jules also utters the unexpectedly poignant line that gives the film its title: “Just because you’re not, like, together together doesn’t mean you haven’t created a bond.”
In a video introducing the film, Beckwith described “Together Together” as part of a desire to create a “celebration of platonic love,” citing the fact that “there’s a lot of different loves in our life that are important.” During the post-screening Q&A, Beckwith elaborated on this idea a bit further: “I don’t know when romance became the singular love focus of our cultural storytelling. Maybe I’ll blame fairytales? I don’t know, I’m not sure. But … I’ve fallen in incredible platonic love again and again over my life, and those are some of the most important, most formative loves I’ve ever experienced.”
This idea, the idea that love can come in many forms and still be valid, is an incredibly important one moving forward. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a romance come to fruition. More often than not, I swoon when I watch someone profess their love, I gasp with delight when two people kiss for the first time and I adore watching love stories unfold.
But “Together Together” proves that a love story doesn’t have to be romantic for it to be meaningful. A scene where Matt and Anna platonically hold hands is just as beautiful and precious as the hundreds of first kisses that came before it. With this film, I hope that the genre can move forward in a new direction, where I can gasp and swoon and fall in love with falling in love, but with a different kind of love that is just as important and just as gratifying.
Senior Arts Editor Kari Anderson can be reached at email@example.com.