There have already been a number of movies that have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic in one way or another, from the of-the-moment documentary Totally Under Control to lighter fare like the Anne Hathaway-Chiwetel Ejiofor heist rom-com Locked Down. It’s unclear how much of an appetite moviegoers have for stories about an awful thing that not only happened to everyone, but is still actively going on, but creativity can sometimes be at its best when things are worst.
Viewers will need to exercise a good amount of patience with the new film Together, which follows an unnamed couple (James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan) as they go through the ups-and-downs of quarantining together in London, along with their son, Artie (Samuel Logan). Instead of being happy to have someone else to lean on during such a trying time, though, it’s abundantly clear from the get-go that the two loathe each other.
Directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, and written by Dennis Kelly, the film starts on March 24, 2020 and checks in on the couple five more times over the following year. Each scene tells a story about one aspect of their lives, whether it’s their personal history or things they’re experiencing currently, and the fast-paced nature of the dialogue coupled with the very British local references often makes it hard to keep up.
Instead of the audience being a fly on the wall for their uncomfortable conversations/arguments, the film involves viewers by having the two actors directly address the camera for most of their dialogue. The technique is never explained; they’re not filming a documentary a la The Office and they’re not talking to Artie, as he spends most of his time in other rooms, silently absorbing the nastiness his parents are dishing out. It’s one of those things viewers just to have accept if they hope to connect with the film at all.
As if anyone watching needed reminders, the film deals with many of the fears and issues we all dealt with in the early days of the pandemic, such as toilet paper hoarding, wiping down groceries, and worrying about family in nursing homes. The beginning of each scene also provides updates on the number of people who had died of COVID in the United Kingdom at that point in time, making things extra dour.
Nothing about the film, especially its central relationship, is sugarcoated. Instead of viewing things through the prism of “we’re all in this together,” the two people are initially very difficult to empathize with because of their harsh language and obvious disdain for each other. Naturally, things change over the course of the year, but only slightly. It takes a hearty viewer to want to see the film through to the end given the constant barrage of negativity.
But what ultimately makes the film worthwhile are the performances of McAvoy and Horgan. The story reverses the expectations for a couple forced to spend every waking minute with each other, and the two actors work so well together that every syllable of hate they spew at each other is instantly believable. You may despise the journey the characters take, but it’s hard to find fault with the way the actors portray it.
Everyone in the world is hoping that the pandemic will be a memory sooner rather than later, so a film such as Together can be a tough pill to swallow while it’s still going on. Add on the hostility the characters have for each other, and it’s difficult to think the film will be one sought out by many moviegoers, even with some compelling performances.
Together opens in select theaters on August 27; it will be available via premium video on demand on September 14.