The year is 2021. Or if you’re cynical you could say this is 2020 Part Two: Pandemic Boogaloo. A never-ending tale of tragedy with the occasional moment of survival and something going viral online. Meanwhile, you’ve probably managed to find creative outlets of expression to pass the time while the world attempts to regain its composure. If that doesn’t fill the void, I find humor and good conversation to be good psychological medicines for when you’re fraught with anxiety and despair. Something most of us now share in this new era of social isolation. However all this shakes out, we will all be waiting for that symbolic moment that tells us this is over. While we hold our breath, let us relive those fond memories by watching a married couple verbally berate each other for 90 minutes.
In Together, directed by Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin, a husband (James McAvoy), wife (Sharon Horgan), and their young son Artie (Samuel Logan) are in mandatory lockdown at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in the U.K. As soon as their story begins, we learn that this couple would like nothing more than to be as far apart from each other as possible, but for the time being, they play nice. They stick to passive-aggressive bickering so as not to upset their son. After all, this lockdown and this pandemic are only temporary. Once they realize neither of those things is true, they become burdened with the realization that they are not equipped to emotionally handle the toxic realities of their relationship. Which like all stories in this pandemic can lead two people to ruin or make them understand their shortcomings and overcome them. Luckily the curse of forced isolation gives them, and us, the time needed to sort out a resolution, whatever that turns out to be.
This movie reads like a play. The scenes are all encased within the home of this family. We switch rooms from time to time, but anything that is happening outside the home is only told via news reports or their recollection of the events that have transpired. Also, much of the dialogue is spoken directly to the audience. If McAvoy isn’t telling us something he despises about his wife, Horgan will jump in with a witty and sardonic retort. Breaking the fourth wall can be fun if used properly. It’s all initially played for uncomfortable laughs as we get to know them, but eventually, the humor subsides and their comments toward each other feel more malicious and self-destructive. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a relationship that has completely fallen apart.
James McAvoy is brilliant as always and his scenes with Sharon Horgan are vibrant and full of raw energy. You can tell McAvoy does not restrain himself and brings out every nuance of a character he embodies. Horgan also demonstrates a wealth of talent in every scene. Both actors at different times of the film display various stages of grief for their own unique reasons and in those moments you find that emotional investment to see where it goes. It’s not a permanent investment, but for your own sanity, you want to see someone make it out of this pandemic with a happy ending of sorts.
Where I think the movie suffers is in its simplicity. Unlike any other piece of fictional drama, this film touches on moments that are very real and very recent. Ongoing in fact. On top of that, there is nothing else in this film to grab your attention. It relies so heavily on these two actors because the son is essentially there as a prop, and their ability to build tension with each spoken or unspoken word. Despite the performances themselves, I found it challenging to want to revisit the events that transpired over the last year. A simple story can be a great character study if you are interested in the journey, but the interludes of humor just aren’t enough to make me enjoy what I’m experiencing. Obviously, certain films aren’t meant to be enjoyed in the strictest sense of the word, but you at least want to walk away knowing it could be a film that you want to come back to in the future. I can’t tell you personally when is the right time to make a film about a historical event. I can only say that for me the time for this film hasn’t arrived yet.
Together is a bitter pill of truth laced with the slightest glimpse of hope. It’s a toxic relationship story that struggles to remember if there was ever a happy beginning to go with this miserable ending. McAvoy and Horgan are really good on screen and I recommend only for what they put forth. Samuel Logan’s Artie is the only other character on screen, and there are other characters mentioned off-screen, but really the fourth character is the pandemic. It influences so much of their behavior and how they evolve or devolve throughout this ordeal. It is never the cause of their problems, but it shines a brighter light on them. The film also confronts awful revelations about the healthcare system at the time and how it needlessly put so many in danger. If you are looking for a film that tackles your most current concerns and does so in an unconventional way, then you could do worse than this one. Just remember to put on your favorite comedy afterward.
Synopsis: A husband and wife are forced to re-evaluate themselves and their relationship through the reality of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Director: Stephen Daldry, Justin Martin
Writer: Dennis Kelly
Stars: James McAvoy, Sharon Horgan, Samuel Logan
Runtime: 1 Hour, 31 Minutes