You probably think you already know where this movie is going: A single guy in his forties who longs to be a dad hires an unattached young woman in her twenties as a surrogate to bear his child. And, yes, played mostly for gentle chuckles, Together Together seems headed in that direction. But writer-director Nicole Beckwith chooses to bring her thoughtful comedy to a much more interesting place than we expect.
At a job interview, a slightly nervous but composed young woman gamely answers questions posed by an attentive man taking notes on a clipboard. Nothing unusual, except the meeting is taking place in a living room, not an office, and the questions are a little offbeat, like “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
The interviewee is Anna (Patti Harrison), a 26-year-old barista in a (pre-Covid) San Francisco coffeehouse. The man questioning her is 45-year-old Matt (Ed Helms), a successful tech designer whose biological clock is ticking. He desperately wants to raise a child of his own, even on his own, since his relationships haven’t worked out. Anna bore a child out of wedlock as a high school senior, and gave the baby up for adoption, which estranged her from her own family. She’s hoping to use the surrogate money to finally go to college.
The narrative is divided into “Trimesters” as Anna’s pregnancy advances. The first is all about Matt’s giddy excitement as they meet their baby doctor and he springs the news on his parents (empathetic Fred Melamed and waspish Nora Dunn). In this more overtly comic section, Matt also seems to believe he’s entitled to regulate Anna’s sex life and what she eats. (She declares herself “pro-choice” in ordering dinner for herself in a cafe.)
During the second trimester, they get to know each other, attend therapy classes for prospective parents and surrogates, and grapple with the reality of their plan. Anna starts hanging out at Matt’s apartment (they eventually watch all nine seasons of Friends) and helps him choose a color for the baby’s room and shop for a crib. She also pushes him into an improv session on how he will explain menstruation to a tween daughter—just in case it’s a girl.
Filmmaker Beckwith is interested in what it means to be alone in the era of relentless self-promotion and highly curated sharing. Anna shocks Matt by confessing there’s no one she wants to share the news of her pregnancy with. She doesn’t want to know the gender of the embryo inside her, or further personalize it with a name. She’s game to participate in Matt’s eager preparations, from a baby shower (where everyone calls her “the surrogate,” and fondles her belly) to birthing classes, but emotionally, she prefers to “remain neutral—like Switzerland.”
Matt, meanwhile, has designed a hugely successful app called Loner, whose users can scroll through photos of each other without being required to make any kind of contact at all—they can just look. It provides the illusion of community without all that messy interaction. Now he feels his life is “on a loop,” circling between his single friends and those in couples with kids. He hopes having a child to focus on will be a way for him to move forward.
Harrison’s expressive face tells us so much beyond her poised demeanor. Helms can be officious, affable and vulnerable all at the same time, which suits Matt perfectly. Beckwith gifts her leads with sterling support from Tig Notaro as their bemused couples therapist, Sufe Bradshaw as a deadpan sonogram technician, and Julio Torres as Anna’s co-barista, who tells her, “Just because you’re not together together doesn’t mean you’re not creating a bond.” How Anna and Matt come to understand each other keeps the viewer engaged, and Beckwith’s final frames conclude the story on the perfect note.
*** (out of four)
With Patti Harrison and Ed Helms. Written and directed by Nikole Beckwith. A Bleecker Street release. Available on video on demand platforms. Rated R. 90 minutes.