Society tells us to honor thy father and thy mother. But what about all those surrogates who bear the literal weight of pregnancy to make such parental titles possible? Where is their respect? Writer-director Nikole Beckwith’s newest film Together Together is a love letter to these courageous women, too often treated like unfeeling host bodies than human beings. Though not a friend, spouse, nor significant other, surrogates provide a personal favor that has no match. For nine months of their lives, they carry the greatest of gifts and most magical of miracles. I only wish Beckwith’s laudable tribute wasn’t so slight and Hallmark bedecked.
Together Together too often feels restricted by its genre, forcing humor out of situations that require heavier dramatic nuance. Take for instance Matt (Ed Helms), a forty-something single guy ready to raise a child on his own and has already selected his surrogate. His candidate of choice is Anna (Patti Harrison), who already went through the experience of surrendering her child to another family. Much to her parents’ disapproval, she got pregnant at seventeen and decided to give the baby up for adoption. Because of their religious beliefs, Anna’s folks were appalled by their daughter’s decision to forgo maternal responsibility. The rift continues to this day, with Anna ceasing communication and finding peace in estrangement.
Anna is the subject who matters most, and yet her interiority isn’t explored until the end. The irony is that a movie about underappreciating the role of surrogates winds up undervaluing the personality behind the volunteer. Helms’s Matt takes up so much space, his ridiculous needs — which, admittedly, are poked fun at and critiqued for passive sexism — and overbearing presence become the driving comedic force. Matt and Anna’s early banter is painfully awkward, and there’s even a cringe-worthy dinner scene where the two make puns out of “Pro-Life” and “Pro-Choice.”
That said, the script does, thankfully, put a kibosh on potential romance between the odd pairing. Matt believes an age gap could be overridden by an undeniable natural bond, but Anna is quick to remind him that men often don’t consider the woman’s feelings in this hypothetical. She even cites Woody Allen’s filmography as creepy wish-fulfillment that sheds light how on how problematic relationships with massive age difference can be.
Every time Anna corrects him, Matt profusely apologizes for his ignorance, only to overstep his boundaries. He shows up unannounced at Anna’s barista job, insists on accepting gifts she doesn’t feel comfortable receiving, and generally tries to control her bodily habits out of “concern” for his newborn. He is oblivious to his domineering behavior, and doesn’t even take into account his own hypocrisy. Not only could he be eating healthier to live longer for his child, but adding stress to the woman carrying his embryo isn’t exactly helpful.
Audiences are meant to laugh this off — it’s a lighthearted dramedy, and we know in the end things will be just peachy. However, it’s the dismissal of Anna’s feelings, her expectation to be patient beyond normal capacity, and the refusal to let her voice frustration that makes for a partisan character piece. Matt is the focus, even when he learns from his mistakes and pushy antics. After all, this is about Matt’s future as a parent, not Anna’s postnatal life, unfortunate as that is.
There are some authentic bonding moments between the pair, which almost convinces the viewer to appreciate Matt. Picking out a nursery wall color is probably the sweetest of them, allowing Anna to finally feel like she’s got a say in the process. Patti Harrison is sensational in this role — her subtly ingenious breakthrough performance gives dynamic expressivity to a character with little to say or do on the page.
Helms is appropriately cast, if a bit on the nose with his midlife angst played for laughs. Other than Veep standout Sude Bradshaw as a sonography technician who amusingly feigns disinterest, the side characters are mostly a collection of talking heads with bad opinions (particularly Tig Notaro as a patronizing surrogacy specialist). Together Together is lighter fare than Bleecker Street normally backs, and could have benefited from a more sobering examination of the incredible women who make surrogacy possible, their invisible lives honored with truth, transparency, and sole focus.