Hello, everyone! It’s been a little bit of a hiatus due to my most recent project (People Puzzler, season 2, debuting Monday, 9/27 on GSN!), but I wrapped yesterday, which means I’m finally able to properly catch up on reviews and get back to regular movie watching. Thanks for sticking with me.
Anyhoo, it’s somewhat appropriately ironic that we start resuming normal coverage with a look at Together (not to be confused with Together Together), directed by Stephen Daldry, a three-time Oscar nominee for Best Director (Billy Elliot, The Hours, and The Reader). The film, originally broadcast on the BBC before receiving a theatrical release in the US, is a deeply intimate story involving two people stuck at home, which juxtaposes nicely with the fact that I’ve basically been out and about working for the better part of the last six weeks. It is the first major cinematic reckoning of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as such will have a place of notoriety going forward no matter what. The question that remains, however, is if it’s any good. I can safely say that it is.
Shot over 10 days in London, the entire film only has three sets – a kitchen, a living room, and a garage/garden area – all inside the home of the principle couple, played by James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan. Though not married, they have a 10-year-old son named Artie (Samuel Logan), who it’s hinted is on the autism spectrum, and who doesn’t say a word until the final moments. He’s essentially a background character to the couple’s drama, as they make no real secret that they basically hate each other. They stay together for Artie’s sake (and I believe after a certain amount of time they’d be considered Common Law), but they really can’t stand one another, the usually unstated end result of what happens when an “opposites attract” pair go long-term.
Beginning on the first day of the UK’s COVID lockdown in 2020, the movie’s central premise is an examination of McAvoy and Horgan’s relationship (they don’t have names, instead listed as “He” and “She” in the credits), given that they’re now isolated with the very last person they’d want to be with. We check in with them several times over the course of a year, with Artie a continually lingering backburner presence and reminder of the effects of their toxicity. In long, mostly unbroken shots, the pair addresses each other and the omnipresent camera to air their grievances about one another and the world at large.
This may be off-putting to some, as the fourth wall is obliterated the instant the film begins, never to be repaired, and there really is no physical presence revealed that they’ve been speaking to this whole time. In that respect, the film feels much more like a stage play, which can feel like a bad approach depending on the material. For me, though, the concept largely works, mostly because it’s part of the desperate cabin fever these two characters feel, and it accurately portrays the frustrations we all felt at the worst times of the pandemic. I know there were certainly moments where I would have spoken to my four walls just to vent with no one around to hear it, so I can definitely see where they’re coming from, pretending to include the unseen audience in the conversation just for some twisted sense of normalcy and occasionally divert attention.
But the best parts of the film are when McAvoy and Horgan play directly to each other. Sure, there’s a lot of fun to be had when they’re speaking to us, but when they’re truly dealing with one another, that’s where the real emotional resonance happens. When they admit to their conflicted feelings, it scans as genuine. When they inevitably get an all-too-poignant personal taste of the consequences of the virus, it’s a pure moment of emotional honesty that can’t be dismissed, because too many of us have been in that exact scenario. When they each come close to a breakdown because they realize how much they depend on one another, and how this once-in-a-century event has shown them for who they really are, warts and all, it holds a mirror up to us all. I sincerely doubt there’s an adult out there who could watch this film and not see some aspect of themselves and their loved ones in it, and that’s what makes this special.
In such a dialogue-heavy film as this, it’s impossible to make it work without stellar performances. Thankfully McAvoy and Horgan are well up to the task. Just the sheer amount of line readings, memorization, and ad-libbing they had to do over the course of less than a fortnight is worthy of admiration. But so much more than that is their delivery. Their ability to seamlessly play off each other and then turn to the camera as if we’re actually there is masterful, and the genuine pathos they wring from the material by playing everything completely straight is nothing short of remarkable.
If there’s an overall dig to be had, it’s that for some, the wounds might still be a bit too fresh to be able to watch this as a piece of entertainment. A lot of us are still dealing with the consequences of this pandemic from which we’ve still not wholly emerged nearly two years later, and as such, there are many who just wouldn’t be ready to process this as it is. For me, that makes it all the more important, because it means confronting ugly truths (amazingly without getting too political), and I’m always a stickler for honesty, no matter how much it might hurt. But at the same time I can’t ignore the realities that millions face, and I certainly can’t dismiss it.
For my own personal enjoyment, the only real drawback was that Artie wasn’t more involved. I understand his symbolic importance, but in a film with only three characters, it kind of sucks that 1/3 of the cast is nothing more than a living prop. He didn’t have to be a star or anything, but I would have appreciated a few lines of dialogue and some direct influence on the proceedings. All he really gets to do is wander into the background and occasionally get sent away when McAvoy and/or Horgan notice he’s around and can hear them talking (even though most of the time they’re so loud that they’d easily be heard upstairs by the kid anyway). A little more of an active role would have been a bit better, because while the film is mostly about this dysfunctional couple, it could only have helped to see how the pandemic – and their behavior – affected him. There’s the odd reference to how he copes with stuff, but we never see him actually cope. It’s not too big of an issue, as they only had 10 days to film this, but if Daldry wasn’t going to fully utilize him, they could just as easily not included him and it wouldn’t have really changed anything in the overall story.
For what it is, this film is likely one of the most important of 2021. Thanks to some deft filming, brisk pacing, and absolutely top notch performances from McAvoy and Horgan, this is definitely a move that has stuck with me, one that will resonate for quite a while to come. It’s by no means perfect, but as we slowly return to normalcy in the world, it will be crucial to take stock of everything we’ve collectively endured. For me, Together is a great starting point.
Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? How have you been able to cope during the pandemic? Would you be able to watch a movie about the worst events of your life? Let me know!