By Charlotte Daraio.
By parodying its viewers expectations, Together, Together proves that relationships, and films about them, don’t need to fit into a preconceived box to be legitimate nor need to be directly relatable to be poignant.”
A film poster with a man and woman sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, since the dawn of cinema, has typically represented one of two character dynamics: wily or estranged family members, or will-be-lovers teetering around a blooming sexual tension.
Burgeoning writer/director Nikole Beckwith has accomplished something special with Together Together – a no-strings-attached pregnancy film: the film’s opposite-gendered protagonists, the platonically involved Matt (Ed Helms) and the more romantically minded Anna (Patti Harrison), never once cross their established relationship boundaries into the grey of will-they-won’t-they territory. With the film’s lack of a meet-cute in its opening scene, Beckwith firmly roots Together Together in a platonic sincerity and doesn’t stray – even when things get deeply intimate.
In presenting us with the unorthodox relationship of Anna and Matt – a gestational surrogate and the baby’s soon-to-be-father – Beckwith has created a new kind of dynamic that isn’t familial, romantic, or even really a friendship. There isn’t a singular word for the experience Anna and Matt are sharing. Because of that, Together Together sits in its own category of film – one that’s free from the gendered constraints of its predecessors.
Together Together is refreshing in that it proves platonic relationships between men and women can comfortably exist on screen. It diminishes the outdated notion purported by films such as When Harry Met Sally, which ride on the idea that the heterosexual male-female friendships don’t even exist in real life (and reiterating that they don’t exist on screen). But the zany, kindred-spiritual chemistry between Helms and Harrison allows their scenes to feel palpably loving, without being romantic. Their characters bounce off each other in a way that feels authentic, yet unconventional; their strange situation allows for their guards to drop and for their bond to bloom at hyperspeed.
In turning a number of romantic-comedy tropes on its head, Beckwith demonstrates how intimacy lines can be crossed without being blurred: Anna and Matt go to surrogacy therapy instead of couples therapy, Matt probes Anna about her sex life (‘I don’t want my baby absorbing ejaculate!’), and the two even have a what are we? conversation. This line-crossing, however, is never presented as hurtful or unrequited; both protagonists accept the dynamic of their strange relationship for what it is, and neither of them want more from the other.
Beckwirth twists these cliches to rework the gender-based humour found in rom-coms: though Anna can’t legally back out of the surrogacy, Matt doesn’t feel like he owns her. Similarly, both characters lack properly antagonistic behaviour that could threaten the integrity of their relationship; neither of them is overly-assertive nor overly-passive. They have a glorious middle-ground, created by their shared knowledge of the transactional nature of their relationship that allows them to grow and flourish from the beginning to end of the film. Their above-average openness and understanding – and their mutual acceptance of this openness and understanding – allows them to mitigate tensions that we would likely see develop between their rom-com counterparts. ‘Sometimes I really want my space when he’s like, monitoring my diet or the person I’m sleeping with,’ Anna tells her surrogacy group, ‘but I also had a pretty OK time picking the colour of the nursery with him.’ This sense of equality means neither of them feels taken advantage of by the other.
It’s in this way that Beckwit nurtures Anna and Matt’s bond: Anna’s reactions to Matt’s often-invasive questions change from tentatively resistant to downright oppositional, at times flecked with moments of pure empathy. Towards the end of the pregnancy, for example, it’s Anna who instigates the hefty relationship discussion with Matt after his babyshower, during which Matt’s guests make her feel like a vessel for the baby rather than like an individual. This level of comfort is a result of their mutual respect: Anna accepts Matt’s involvement in the pregnancy, and Matt is able to quell his need for control over it. This shift is depicted whenever Matt steps in for Anna when conversations with outsiders turn uncomfortable: ‘We’ll buy this on the internet’, he tells a salesperson who condescends the idea of Anna being a single mother.
By the end of the film, we stop trying to categorise Anna and Matt’s relationship, perhaps in realising they get enough of this from the people in their lives. At only one point in the film do they themselves question whether or not they’re ‘friends’, and this is later answered only with an expression of love for each other – ‘in a normal way; not in a gross way’.
Together Together doesn’t leave its viewer waiting or willing for ‘something’ to happen between its two protagonists. By parodying its viewers expectations, it in fact proves that relationships, and films about them, don’t need to fit into a preconceived box to be legitimate nor need to be directly relatable to be poignant. The film simply exists as a gorgeous portrayal of a relationship between two people sharing something as magical as pregnancy, while sharing a platonic bond that can’t be replicated within any other dynamic.
As Matt states about Anna: she’s not my partner – we’re feminists. With this hilarious line of dialogue, Beckwith reinforces that Anna and Matt’s relationship doesn’t need to have its own word for it to make sense – and we’re going to have to just deal with that.
Charlotte Daraio has contributed to STACK Magazine, FilmInk, Monster Fest and Screen Realm. She currently juggles freelancing as a content writer and script reader, and working for a scriptwriting software company.