Together Together is an amiable, successfully awkward surrogacy dramedy that also has the respectable distinction of being a TERF’s worst nightmare. That’s only one of the tiny aspects of writer/director Nikole Beckwith’s second feature, but the gentle tapestry of intimacy among strangers who, for a short time, desperately need each other certainly benefits from the meta-text of comedian and internet terror Patti Harrison’s multi-layered starring performance. Stuffed with bombastic bit parts from a roster of recent television’s greatest comedic talents and casually incisive dialogue that lays waste to media empires and preconceptions of women’s autonomy alike, the film is an unexpected, welcome antidote to emotional isolation and toxic masculinity that meanders in and out of life lessons at a pleasingly inefficient clip. That the tale of fatherhood and friendship is told through the sparkling chemistry of a rising trans star and her entrenched, anxious straight man (an endearing Ed Helms) only adds to Together Together’s slight magic.
Harrison plays Anna, a young surrogate whose boundaries and lonely self-regard are perpetually tested by her over-eager aspiring parent Matt (Helms). Matt and Anna’s relationship kicks off with a professionally invasive conversation, as he gamely interviews her on her history, only to discover that she’s lied about one of his prerequisites for his surrogate: She doesn’t have any children of her own, having given her biological son up for adoption as a teenager. By all accounts, the interview seems doomed to fail, but something in Anna’s challenging but honest demeanor (she turns the tables on Matt, asking him to name the worst thing he’s ever done) works. We don’t get to see the rest of the interview, but it’s no loss—Matt and Anna talk about everything throughout the course of the film.
Matt is a forty-something app designer whose most recent success, a platonic swiping service for the lonely that wouldn’t be out of place in Her, has given him the monetary ability to go for what he has always wanted: Parenthood. He’s practically bursting at the seams every time he even thinks about his bundle-of-joy to be, yet no one in his life shares his surety that not only is this his destiny, it’s the most thrilling fate known to man. This is where his relationship to Anna evolves into something more complicated than a service exchange. While she’s at first put off by his skyrocketing eyebrows and encroaching concern about her diet, shoes and sex life, and he fumbles with even the most basic of human interactions, their interests in each other’s choice to go it alone leads to a mutual appreciation and openness that they don’t find with anyone else. After Anna sees how much care and weight Matt puts into picking the exact shade for his kid’s future nursery, underlined by Alex Somers’ warmly hopeful score, her walls come down just enough to consider helping him through more than the most crucial functions of the gestational stage.
In a turn from her previous absurd, cosmically evil stand-up and television personae, Harrison’s guarded Anna is often thrust into awkward situations not entirely of her own devising. Everyone around her laser focuses on her only insofar as she affects them or their perception of themselves. She jaunts from doctor’s appointment, to unorthodox couple’s therapy, to crib shopping, to baby shower as a particularly observant fly on the wall, and people (including Matt) seem surprised when their automatic judgements of her are met with an inquisitive or mildly hostile response. These confrontations are the nexus of several of the film’s high points: Harrison’s consistently surprising acting choices, Beckwith’s delight in writing the pointed counters one might avoid in polite conversation and a steady stream of magnetic characters with maybe five lines apiece.
With favorites being too numerous to choose—Veep vet Sufe Bradshaw’s unflappable OBGYN tech, Tig Notaro’s helpful but deeply uncomfortable therapist, PEN15’s Anna Konkle as an energy-peddling birth coach—it’s a credit to Beckwith that each performer is allowed the exact amount of space to make an emphatic physical or verbal impression without too far derailing the emotional core of Anna and Matt’s relationship. Another performer who makes a bigger splash is Julio Torres (co-creator and star of the brilliantly weird Los Espookys), whose by-turns disaffected and wholly invested role as Anna’s barista coworker-from-another-planet creates some of the biggest laughs and disarmingly resonant reflections. Between getting tattoos for his boyfriends, both named Sam, and fearing the potential heterosexuality of Anna’s unborn child, he notes that even though Anna and Matt aren’t “Together Together” (that’s it! that’s the line!), they still have a marked impact on one another.
This is the segment of Anna’s relationship to loneliness and self-image that most enmeshes the script with the concept of a trans actor playing a surrogate mother. Beyond the obviousness of Harrison giving birth at the film’s close (likely not a first in film history, but memorable nonetheless!), Anna’s character is estranged from her own family primarily because of the way they treated her when she was pregnant and gave her son up for adoption the first time around. As she explains to Matt, while she might have left the house in her teen years, what she really misses is the family she had when she was a child—before they knew what was there to shape into their own more conservative and prescriptive mold.
“I got tired of seeing myself the way they saw me,” Anna surmises, leaving the door open for Matt to see her the way she wants to be seen. The link of familial estrangement by way of unwanted pregnancy or trans identity takes on an extra-textual weight with Harrison’s performance, and the allegory of the chosen family is what drives Anna and Matt’s material improvement of each other’s lives. Matt is overjoyed to have Anna in his life and despite her best intentions, Anna chooses to let him read the chapters she keeps close to the chest.
While the film may end too abruptly for some who want to know the definitive status of Anna and Matt’s future friendship, it completes its sentence. If the film’s honesty leaves you hungry for more thoughts on sustaining new life alone, together, try out Torrey Peters’ Detransition, Baby or Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life as a digestif. Though we might make it hard on ourselves, out of fear, practice or practicality, no one is alone, truly, if they don’t want to be, and Together Together makes sure that even the stubborn among us knows it.
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Writers: Nikole Beckwith
Starring: Patti Harrison, Ed Helms, Rosalind Chao, Tig Notaro, Fred Melamed, Julio Torres
Release Date: April 23, 2021
Shayna Maci Warner is a Brooklyn-based film programmer, preservationist and GLAAD-awarded critical queer. Their words on queer feelings and films appear in Autostraddle, The Film Stage and Film Cred, among others, and they write a horny newsletter about the girls and gays that make movies worth watching. You can summon her by yodeling “Desert Hearts was robbed!” into the sunset.