Don’t forget yourself.
People died, businesses closed, and health and science became politicized to a point of no return, but what about the good that COVID accomplished? What about those relationships that needed a global pandemic to provide the next logical progression of conflict resolution on the extensive list John (Derek Luke) shares with June (Katie Holmes) to describe all they’ve overcome—definitive proof their one-year love is real and worth saving? Trials (he’s apparently a lawyer), holidays, regular days, and … health crisis? If your union can survive COVID, it can survive anything. And, likewise, if it can’t survive COVID, why were you dating in the first place? Luckily for June, those million-plus Americans’ deaths meant something. They sacrificed themselves so she could see the truth: John’s a self-righteous dick.
Welcome to Katie Holmes’ sophomore directorial and debut screenwriting effort Alone Together. The only way this play at “bringing a sense of joy and optimism during a time of great fear and loss” (as she states in her brief, platitude-heavy, sixty-eight-word director’s statement) could be more tone-deaf is if she waited to reveal that it was set during the first few weeks of the pandemic in 2020 for a third act rug pull. Because, just like that other misguided and abhorrent COVID drama Together, no one really cares about how the virus “inconvenienced” a pair of cis white, affluent forty-year-olds. I didn’t care about James McAvoy and Susan Horgan whining in that film, and I really don’t care about June and Charlie (Jim Sturgess) falling in love now.
While most of us were sheltering in place and struggling to stay sane, these two were “smart” (privileged). He owns a vintage repair shop that’s supplied a nest egg (New York City real estate isn’t cheap, after all) to close and hole up in an out-of-state, rurally secluded Airbnb (one of a few companies shamelessly marketed throughout alongside Lyft, Uber Eats, and … McDonald’s). She’s a food critic who obviously can’t review closed restaurants and thus decides, with John, to do the same if she can bring the essentials: a bottle of wine and corkscrew because beer is yucky. Well, in great meet-cute fashion, their house (this thing’s huge from the outside with a three-window second floor that somehow only contains one bedroom and one bathroom) was double-booked.
Not only that, but John cancels last second to stay with his scared parents in the city. And since June took a Lyft, she’s stuck regardless of whether Charlie got there first. So, they compromise. She can have the bed for a night (he’ll take the couch) before figuring things out tomorrow. Except there’s nothing to figure out. If nobody leaves (he’s nursing a broken heart and she doesn’t even consider going to stay with John’s parents since making him a villain for doing the compassionate thing is necessary for plot progression), they’ll have to share. Charlie will need to loosen up for karaoke night and June will have to think about ditching her admittedly fad-driven (and John suggested) veganism to chow down on a burger for sustenance.
All the COVID touchstones arise. Charlie is away from his mother (Melissa Leo is the distraught one) and June from her grandfather (she’s the distraught one since his Alzheimer’s has left her a stranger on their Zoom calls). What was thought to be a two-week “break” turns into something much more serious (Andrew Cuomo’s voice is heard on the television throughout to trigger everyone’s PTSD). Distance allows them to take stock in what they have and what could be better. What could be better is suddenly found in each other. And the inevitable death strikes (love in a time of COVID takes sacrifice). It’s all okay, though, because they have each other. They’re everything their previous and current partners never were. They can finally be themselves.
Holmes lays the compare/contrast between both men on thick too. June aspires to write a novel (another COVID perk is that it finally gives her the time to do so without worrying about all her other boring responsibilities as a financially comfortable woman without dependents) and Charlie says, “Follow your dream!” Pragmatic John says, “Write a cookbook!” June wants to spend her evenings laughing with her significant other while cooking in the kitchen and bearing their souls on the couch. Charlie says, “I’ll gourmet-ify these SpaghettiOs with oil, salt, and pepper!” Buzzkill John says, “You know I don’t cook! I’ll just ignore you from my laptop again!” We’re supposed to believe Charlie is grounded because he “works with his hands,” but it’s just that he isn’t a chauvinist.
Fast-forward to something about June being stuck under the weight of the world as a woman who must either work to death to support herself or find a husband to do it. Charlie says you must live in the gray area between such absolutes and how he just doesn’t care what society thinks. She rightfully calls him out on his male privilege to think it’s that easy. He scoffs and she pretty much goes, “Oh, you’re right.” I think it’s meant to be an empowering moment and yet it only confirms June’s modus operandi. She does lose herself in her relationships. She has silenced her own ambitions and desires to prop up John’s and Charlie being nice doesn’t mean she’s not doing the same with him.
It’s the sort of confused messaging that undermines Alone Together‘s “optimism.” It starts with an opening sequence in a deserted New York City that’s too quiet and empty not to stare at the LED screens screaming “wear a mask.” Is anyone wearing one? No. When we finally get to a point where everyone is, however, they’re constantly pulling them down to look at things. It’s not enough to let June bask in the humanity of New Yorkers banging pots and pans for essential workers. She must lower her cloth mask to remind us that she’s Katie Holmes. What’s the point of such an emotional moment if we can’t see her face? COVID has been rendered a trivialized cliché for celebrity gravitas. And people keep dying two years later.
Credit: Jesse Korman