REVIEW: Together [2021]

Rating: 5 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 91 minutes
    Release Date: June 17th, 2021 (UK) / August 27th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: BBC Films / Bleecker Street Media
    Director(s): Stephen Daldry / Justin Martin (co-director)
    Writer(s): Dennis Kelly

The love that exists beyond hate.

The number of compelling stories we can pull from our current, still-raging pandemic are infinite. How did a poor family who couldn’t afford to self-isolate cope with the stress of becoming a “front-line worker” overnight? How does a medical professional deal with making their own PPE (because the government pretends the virus isn’t serious) while also having to quarantine from their spouse so as not to potentially pass it to him/her if they unfortunately contract it themselves? Those who can simply stay home for months because their job luckily allows remote access even possess intrigue where it comes to educating their kids or dealing with the stunning lack of empathy growing all around them. Screenwriter Dennis Kelly picks a bickering, politically divisive upper middle class white family instead.

I’ll be honest. His and director Stephen Daldry‘s Together lost me right there. So, them revealing what that bickering entailed only made matters worse. Why? Because while “He” (James McAvoy) hates his partner because he thinks her compassion for the underprivileged is phony, “She” (Sharon Horgan) hates him back because he transparently admits he lacks compassion altogether. Politics or not, being an asshole and pointing out someone is an asshole are not the same thing. Maybe his feelings are hurt when she justifiable rages at his latest insensitive comment, but that doesn’t earn him sympathy. We’re being asked to see these two as contrasting equals about to be imprisoned for twelve months in their England flat and I’m only thinking how she should have ditched him years ago.

The reason they’re still together? Artie (Samuel Logan)—their “weird” son who’s tragically relegated to the background to constantly listen as his parents argue to us (the entire film is like a stage play wherein “He” and “She” talk directly to the audience at carefully chosen points throughout the COVID timeline, each marked by the current number of UK deaths and subsequently the number of UK residents vaccinated). I’d laugh if it didn’t feel unintentional, but Artie is quite literally the pawn they use to trick themselves into believing staying is worth the explosive animosity and the pawn Kelly and Daldry use to guarantee these walking, talking Twitter troll clichés are side by side to work out whatever frustrations they feel about what’s transpired the past sixteen months.

It doesn’t matter if the couple falls back in love due to close contact preventing them from lying about their feelings, Artie is going to need a ton of therapy. And that’s before considering his grandmother’s drama (you can guess that trajectory after an early chapter closes with the words “She finally agreed to go to the retirement home”). I get that pushing your characters to their edge of the political spectrum makes good drama, but what’s the goal when only those who already understand how badly the UK (and the US, depending on where you live) botched their COVID responses are watching? Add the fact that only other self-pitying, upper middle class white families will care about this couple’s “struggles”, and you’ve created your own echo chamber.

This could be the best-made film in the world, but it’ll never overcome that truth. That it does have high production value and fantastic acting (McAvoy and Horgan are both brilliant in their roles) is frankly the reason I kept watching. Because even though “He” can do nothing to make me care about him (not crying, not remorse, not realizing the error of his political ways simply because his bootstrap mentality is proven wrong once his business collapses), McAvoy is compelling enough to see where he’ll take it despite that pathway always being too late. The same goes for his counterpart since nothing “She” does can get me to believe she shouldn’t still run away the first chance she got, but Horgan is too good to look away.

That means experiencing the comedy of their embellished hate in the early months. It means scoffing when he is caught out of his depth trying to comfort her when she needs it despite also pathologically calling her dumb (without actually saying the words) for wanting to continue a no-longer-necessary routine to keep emotionally stable. It means watching with sadness as she is shown what truly exists behind the curtain when what had been a touching moment turns violently lethal in a way that exposes just how much of a gaslighting POS he is. To follow that scathing scene with what amounts to an unearned do-over thanks to giving him eleventh hour character growth that his monologue admits to probably being short-lived is mind-boggling. I wanted to scream.

I get that many relationships are like this one—unions built on sexual chemistry that go on too long until co-dependency sets in—but the way it’s treated on-screen as hidden love waiting to be unearthed while hundreds of thousands of people are dying has me wondering if Artie needs to refer his therapist to the filmmakers. The only way I can recommend it is by acknowledging that it is a great acting showcase. Just because the writing is exploitative, preachy, and self-absorbed doesn’t negate McAvoy and Horgan’s stunning work. That success does not, however, render the whole good enough to forgive its psychological minefield of questionable narrative choices. I honestly want to know what “She” (the character) would think of it. “Despise” might finally be warranted.

[1] James McAvoy (left) and Sharon Horgan (right) star in Stephen Daldry’s TOGETHER, a Bleecker Street release Credit: Peter Mountain
[2] James McAvoy (left) and Sharon Horgan (right) star in Stephen Daldry’s TOGETHER, a Bleecker Street release Credit: Peter Mountain
[3] Sharon Horgan (left) and James McAvoy (right) star in Stephen Daldry’s TOGETHER, a Bleecker Street release Credit: Peter Mountain

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