There's a lot of honesty to “Together Together,” a fairly straightforward and unremarkable portrait of a surrogate pregnancy, in the way it brings together the two people involved. It swats away any impulse for an easy laugh, despite the sitcom-friendly scenario. It actively listens to its characters as they navigate their clashing worldviews and their hard-earned common ground. It refuses to tie everything up in a neat bow.
And, for all it has going for it, writer-director Nikole Beckwith's sophomore feature is frequently dull and nondescript, an indie whiff that brings on the getting-to-know-you chatter but skimps on the entertainment value. It plays like a talk show interview that yields considerable insight on people with all the appeal of a day-old bagel.
Following a credit sequence that appears to borrow the title font from Woody Allen movies, Beckwith gets right down to business. Matt (Ed Helms), a San Francisco-area single man in his 40s, meets Anna (Patti Harrison), a barista in her mid-20s, to discuss whether she will agree to carry his child. Her hesitancy is understandable, refreshing even, though she appears to understand why he has taken this decision outside of a relationship.
“I don't think being alone is a bad thing,” says Anna, hinting at the hurdles ahead for this pair in the months that follow.
Matt's parents, Marty (Fred Melamed) and Adele (Nora Dunn), are mystified but supportive when their son blurts out, “I'm pregnant.” Anna, on the other hand, would rather have as few people as possible know about her decision.
A sticking point that Beckwith explores in depth comes when Matt finds out Anna remains sexually active during the early months of her pregnancy. After Matt takes issue, medical experts spell it out for him: intercourse is, indeed, okay up to a certain stage.
Matt's territorial stance could have made for some subpar, lowest-common-denominator banter, but Beckwith is not in the business of throwing anyone under the bus. After all, she reveals early on, Matt is no average Joe, but the creator of an app that's like Tindr for loners, yet another way she underscores the reclusive, hands-off nature of this lone wolf with a ticking biological clock.
Beckwith revels in the awkwardness that can arise between two strangers, both in conversation and in body language, but the interactions between Helms and Harrison, who show a clear understanding of their characters' motivations and hang ups, always feel generic. For a filmmaker with so much interest in what makes her characters tick, there's a dearth of personality traits on display.
And for its willingness to forge ahead into uncomfortable situations that put into question where boundaries ought to be set in a situation like this, “Together Together” is awfully skittish about getting its hands dirty. What a paradox this is: a cringe comedy that frowns on cringe humor.
Blame Beckwith's screenplay, which is aggravating in ways that come across as underdeveloped and flavorless. It's hard to become invested when the situations that show the characters becoming better acquainted with each other are so threadbare.
Case in point: Matt and Anna bond over marathoning entire seasons of “Friends,” a show that (am I alone in this?) wasn't that memorable to begin with. Coupled with Beckwith's flat staging, the end result is that we're always kept at arm's length from a process that ought to feel much more intimate.
It's also a bummer that Beckwith keeps Matt's relationship past fairly cryptic. The character never refers to previous partners by gender, so it's only when a supporting character mentions his heterosexuality in passing that we discover the character is straight.
There's a thin line between conveying a character's loneliness and willfully withholding information that would make the character much engaging, and Beckwith is on the wrong side of the equation here. To be clear, she has assembled a strong supporting cast that includes Melamed, who recently played the dad role in the far superior “Shiva Baby,” Rosalind Chao as Anna's gynecologist and the esteemed Tig Notaro as Matt's therapist, but they can't make up for the smart but shrug-inducing duo at the center.
The oasis in the desert here, in addition to the solid performances, is a monologue in which Helms sheds some long overdue light about his actions. It also underscores my dealbreaker about “Together Together”: Beckwith seems to be more interested in the idea of having a baby alone than in creating three-dimensional characters. She uses the typical arc of a romantic comedy, but takes out the charm along with the romance.
And then the movie hits the brakes. The abrupt ending is effective, because Beckwith nails the final scene and goes out with a closing image that has the kind of potency that eludes her elsewhere. “Together Together,” a film that indulges in quirks too bland to stick, finally snaps into focus, but it's too little, too late. You end up yearning for the more nuanced two-hander it could have been.
“Together Together” is showing in wide release across South Florida, including Coral Gables Art Cinema, Silverspot Cinema in downtown Miami, CMX Brickell City Centre, and IPIC in North Miami Beach. It's set to debut on digital rental platforms on May 11.