Almost immediately, there is an odd presence to Together Together. The phantom of the feast lingers on the threshold often, but this awful entity rarely comes crashing through with a song in their heart and air in their head. Ed Helms’ transition from “man we love to hate” to “man we just hate” has taken a turn in recent years. He did not inspire much confidence as a standalone comedy character with Cedar Rapids, nor did he impress in ensembles like Father Figures or The Hangover. Every dog has his day, and Together Together may be a knock in the right direction for Helms, who was in dire need of focus, accessibility, and likeability. He checks the box of at least one of those alongside Patti Harrison and Rosalind Chao.
Helms is focused. What, specifically, he is focused on, is not that clear. Eliciting the same tones he did on The Office, he comes across as goofy. The man we are supposed to fall immediately in love with through tragedy and isolation. Love blossoms in unlikely, uncomfortable places. Matt (Helms), a lonely man in desperate need of a child falls in love with the much younger surrogate, Anna (Harrison). Non-diegetic sound with an abrupt piano stop signifies the punchline. One step away from having a laugh track, director Nikole Beckwith options the bright and breezy style of filmmaking for her sophomore feature film.
There are lingering notes of simplicity and allusions to the editing choices of Woody Allen. Black and white title cards, the camera shots fixated on one character, unmoving from their position on a sofa as they dig a hole for themselves. Deeper and deeper we go. We are dragged along with them. No turning back. Pregnancy is a big choice; one I hope never to make. Not like I have a choice. Together Together, focuses more on the separate, separate choices of the two leading characters. Every time Beckwith tries to make a unique moment, the underlying notions of Allen and the awkward charms of family life come through far clearer. Unpleasant early interactions at restaurants with the surrogate, celebrating with parents and talking with friends, Matt seemingly cannot catch a break. Neither can Helms. He and Harrison are at odds within Together Together for so long, not because of any lingering, well-made tension, but because the recurring jokes are unconvincing and uninspired. Modern pops at the cultural norms and traditions, not much more than that. At least their performances are amicable, rather than annoying like the rest of those featured here.
Helms once again plays the disagreeable man, paired with Harrison, who is also disagreeable, Together Together doesn’t pull itself together in the places it really matters. Its two leading characters are fine enough, the more annoying moments come from the supporting cast. The less said about those cumbersome caricatures the better. Surely, deep down, there is a strong concept here. With the right mixture of characters and creatives, this could certainly be a heart-warming, comforting piece. Instead, Together Together portrays a middle-aged man with no prospects, buying gifts for a surrogate who isn’t into him, until she, inevitably, is. By the end though, we both know where it’s going. Helms is destined for happiness. He will keep climbing the ladder of leading man likeability. A sad shame he is still on the bottom rung.