Directed by Stephen Daldry.
Starring James McAvoy, Sharon Horgan, and Samuel Logan.
A husband and wife are forced to re-evaluate themselves and their relationship through the reality of the COVID-19 lockdown.
As soon as James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan (the couple is only credited as He and She, to give you an idea of how stripped-down and small-scale this pandemic-shot production is) burst onto the screen of Together (directed by three-time Best Director Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry, although perhaps more relevant here, written by TV scribe Dennis Kelly, a fitting choice given the episodic structure of the film and singular location) rambling about their lives breaking the fourth wall (I don’t think it’s ever made clear if they are talking to the audience or taping footage for their own personal usage, but it also doesn’t matter), there was an alarming cause for concern.
For those keeping track, that might be a hypocritical thing for someone to say that highly rated Malcolm & Marie, but even that movie doesn’t just launch viewers into the arguing from the first frame. As they bicker about politics (He voted Tory whereas She is very much a progressive person that also works with refugees), their disdain for one another and how they only stick together for the sake of their son Artie (Samuel Logan), and what to make of the initial lockdown (the story starts in late March where there was so much uncertainty about safety precautions and how the disease could be transferred, among other things, although I’m sure people don’t necessarily require that reminder it’s good to reiterate for context), it mostly comes across as grating considering we don’t have the faintest idea of who these people are and what they are about.
Even as Together goes on (broken up into six or seven different sections, the film ends up sometime in February with vaccinations rolling out), it’s tough to say if it really finds a groove analyzing the ups and downs of this particular couple (notwithstanding recurring discussions of an incident involving picking mushrooms that feels inspired by the masterful Phantom Thread), seemingly going for broad strokes that could apply to any dysfunctional couple with a child. What can be said is that James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan or more than up to this daunting challenge of taking 90 minutes of back-and-forth dialogue exchanges (appropriately captured with unbroken, occasionally swirling cinematography from Iain Struthers), delivering theatrical performances that are nonetheless always filled with emotion pouring out).
Thankfully, Together quickly pulls back on aspects of these people that could be deemed miserable to refocus on the UK government’s reaction to the virus, with some measured shots fired. Most strikingly is a monologue from She that lasts around 10 minutes, where she does everything from comment on the brokenness of the caretaking facilities that led to her mom getting sick with the virus and her last moments before she passes away. If that wasn’t heartbreaking enough, a quick rundown of the funeral is also said, although not without a few silver linings (they both seem to prefer the emptiness of a funeral without unnecessary decorations).
Smartly, when jumping forward months at a time (there are also subtitles letting us know how many virus-related deaths have occurred by that point or how many people have been vaccinated), the conversations and monologues may take on a different priority but not without shying away from government incompetence and how one depressing or unforgettable experience related to lockdown impacts another refund. Following that, She also has a second monologue mathematically explaining what it means for something to grow exponentially, concerning the increase in deaths with sound logic and shattering emphasis.
That’s not to take anything away from James McAvoy, either, who has his quiet moments of self-reflection as his place of business also gets railroaded throughout the pandemic. There’s also a moment when She is getting an overwhelming amount of grief either out with He standing outside the next room, clearly wanting to charge in and embrace and console her, albeit unable to because she is self-isolating at the time. It’s such a powerfully acted scene that you can practically sense James McAvoy restraining himself from entering the room. Given the incredible acting from Sharon Horgan, I’m not sure how he could while filming the scene.
Unfortunately, the final 30 minutes or so also come back around to the relationship dynamics, which are nowhere near as strong as the scathing commentary on the handling of the pandemic, wrapping things up on an optimistic note that doesn’t necessarily feel earned. With that said, Together essentially rises above its concept and reliance on heavy-duty acting to connect and resonate with the effects of the pandemic. It’s easy to recommend for the performances, but it’s also easy to see that the words spoken could come out of the mouths of quite a few people, hitting close to home.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com