While some movie subjects seem to be told over and over again, the idea of being a surrogate mother is one that is still relatively fresh. Of the handful of American movies that have dealt with it as their main topic, the approaches have ranged from comedic (Baby Mama) to thriller (various TV movies) to drama (2020’s The Surrogate). The new film Together Together marries the comedic and dramatic approaches for a winning combination.
Ed Helms plays Matt, a single man who has decided to have a baby with a surrogate mother. As the film begins, he’s interviewing the person he will choose to be the surrogate, Anna (Patti Harrison), an easygoing and unambitious young woman who works in a coffee house. As Anna progresses through the pregnancy, Matt is neurotic and over-protective, while Anna is supremely patient with Matt’s invasiveness into the particulars about her personal life.
The film doesn’t hold many surprises; instead, it makes room for a number of side characters/stories that usually only get a scene or two in these types of films. Anna has multiple scenes with Jules (Julio Torres), her gay co-worker. Matt and Anna are seen talking to a counselor (Tig Notaro) together a lot, as well as attending separate support groups. And, of course, there are the various checkup appointments, at which Matt and Anna get a little too familiar with a jaded but funny technician.
In fact, the film – written and directed by Nikole Beckwith – contains very little drama about the whole surrogate process, an unusual storytelling choice in this day and age. The film’s arc could be seen as idealistic, but it’s also nice to have a movie where drama isn’t manufactured for the sake of having something happen.
Instead, the movie focuses almost equally on both participants and their evolving feelings about how the pregnancy is affecting each of them. The film gives relatively little information about how each character ended up at this particular point in their lives, but the depth of feeling that comes with them being intimately bonded for nine months makes up for that lack of history.
Other films involving a man and a woman spending the majority of their time together tend to go down the romance road, but Beckwith avoids that through deft dialogue, including a pointed scene aimed at Woody Allen. A conversation between Matt and Anna notes how creepy many of Allen’s films, in which he often pairs himself with younger women, can be, defusing any possibility of a relationship between them in the process. Interestingly, the film uses the distinctive font on credits that is seen in all Woody Allen movies, raising the question of whether Beckwith is trying to emulate him or reclaim the style from the now-toxic filmmaker.
Although Helms is ostensibly the star, Beckwith makes plenty of space for Harrison to show her talent, and the result is some of the best work from both actors. Helms, who is often called on to go over-the-top in other movies, is reserved but still funny. Harrison pulls off a kind of magic trick, playing her character with little emotion but enough so that she’s still someone with whom it’s easy to empathize.
The film ends on a static final shot pointed in the opposite direction of where you might expect, one last fantastic choice that indicates that Beckwith had a clear vision of the message she was trying to tell. It’s a fitting closure for an understated movie that hits almost all the right notes.
Together Together opens in select theaters on April 23. It will be available on video on demand on May 11.