Together (Bleecker Street, R)

Together is one of those rare movies that I get to watch without having ever watched the trailer. I live on the internet, basically, so the chances that I go to a movie without knowing anything about it are extremely slim. When this does occur it is frequently the result of one of two things: 1) I went with a friend spontaneously, or 2) I avoided the trailers on purpose. That second fact should come with a little caveat: I am terrible at having self control when it comes to trailers. So, present facts being made clear, I got the offer to screen Together, looked at the cast, and said, “Yup, I’ll watch that!” End of story. Boy am I glad I didn’t watch any trailers for this movie.

Together is a romantic drama comedy, so a rom-drom(?), starring Sharon Horgan (Game Night, This Way Up) and James McAvoy (Filth, Split) as a couple adapting to the ever changing reality that was 2020. Starting with lockdown in March of 2020 and stopping off to update us periodically until March of 2021. Their son, Arthur, played by Samuel Logan (IF, Civilised) sneaks into the frame a few times before the films conclusion but largely he is the subject of conversation more than the subject of the camera.

It’s a straight forward premise, a relatable setting, and a couple of brilliant actors. Makes sense then, that Together is probably my favorite movie of the year so far.

There is something special about movies that resemble bottle episodes of a television show. Bottle episodes being those episodes that don’t ever really leave a single room, focus on a very limited set of characters, and feature intimate dialogue. It’s a daunting task for shows to take on. There is no room for poor performances or writing in this format, as everything is under a sort of microscope. The potential for a quick laugh or a cut away to draw attention away from a poor line delivery is largely not an option here. What’s more, for Together specifically, the director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot) made the unique choice to make the camera a character in this film. No one speaks from behind it, but McAvoy and Horgan address the camera throughout the entire movie. It feels a bit like watching a mockumentary at first, as if you’ve caught an episode of the office, but that thought quickly fades as you realize the actors are addressing you, the viewer. As this couple struggles with their relationship and the world around them, they look into the camera and make their case to you.

It’s strange and awkward at first, largely because I have never experienced a movie that leaned on this mechanic this heavily. But as the film progresses, the initial uncomfortability that the directness prompted gave way to a sort of curiosity. McAvoy and Horgan are pleading to you, are appealing to you, are commiserating with you. We all went through COVID and the lockdowns of 2020. Though Together takes place in the UK, we can all relate in some way.

I frequently see films reviewed as “unflinching” and for the most part I recognized that as film critic lingo for “really good.” Together is perhaps the first time that I have fully understood what that description, unflinching, has meant. This movie is unrelenting and violently intimately emotional. Tracking through a broken relationship, political differences, familial loss, grief, isolation, loneliness, repentance, regret, love, and contentment, this movie never takes a beat. It is constant and driving. Daldry’s decision to make the actors speak directly to the camera is leveraged in each of these emotional moments. Sometimes giving us a single actor, sharing their mindset, other times allowing both actors to present arguments to us. But that isn’t the only part of Daldry’s creative choice that makes this film my favorite of the year. See, the “into the camera” confessional style of exposition generally means that there isn’t really a good reason to cut the camera to get different angles. This leads to minutes of uncut, single take, long form dialogue. Entire scenes that pull you in and refuse to let you go because the actors are literally just going on. McAvoy and Horgan absolutely dominate this task, delivering convincing, heart-wrenching, soul-shaking performances.

2020 was difficult for everyone. This film is written, acted, and directed by people that understand that fact. This doesn’t feel preachy, or detached, or distanced. It’s visceral and personal. It reads like the personal experiences of these performers, and it grabs you by the spine and walks you back into that scary, mysterious, and answer-less time. As we continue to navigate the virus and its many different dovetails in 2021, you will feel a way as this movie begins to wrap up. There is a strange but extremely acute shame that comes from knowing where the world is now, and where it could have been had people just been more attentive. More empathetic. More concerned for others rather than themselves.

Together broadsided me, in more ways than one. Had I watched the trailer, I would have known the format of the drama that I would encounter, sure. But the raw emotionality that each moment packs in is truly impossible to prepare for. The writing is excellent, shown on full display as conversation leads to confession leads to conflagration leads to conflict leads to compromise. The interactions in this film stray from movie cliché, there is rarely a straightforward conversation that stays on topic. Like life, these talks digress, regress, kitchen sink, and meander. The performances are absolutely gripping. Long monologues, spoken directly into camera, tears welling up in the eyes of the performer. The intrusive lack of score for much of this film leads to surprising moments, especially in the film’s final moments, when a song that perfectly reminds you of social media in 2020.

This movie is special. Damn is it special. I constantly caught myself thinking, “my god, this has all been in a single take.” It’s a master class in dialogue and relationship dynamics. It’s weird and awkward and intrusive and intimate and exactly what I needed after the hellish year that 2020 was. Go see this movie. Please. | Caleb Sawyer

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