The pre-packaged media narrative about what makes Together Together special is that it’s a mainstream comedy that cast a trans actress as a cisgender, pregnant woman. That’s true enough, but what really makes the film incredible is that the actress in question is Patti Harrison, who’s just about the last comedian on the planet you’d expect in a mainstream role of any kind. Harrison’s comedy is confrontational, absurd, and explosively funny. Together Together is none of those things. This is a very Sundancey comedy about two lonely people establishing an unlikely friendship in an intensely awkward scenario. Harrison is cast opposite Ed Helms as her co-lead – a bland, safe, everyman comedian whose defining quality is that you always kinda wish he was Jason Sudeikis instead. She’s asked to be earnest, muted, and vulnerably awkward, and she does so ably . . . but that’s not what you think of as Her Thing. This is not at all the movie you’d expect from a comedian who says things like, “[I] feel very caged by [a lot of well-meaning social media liberals] who claim to be pro-my-autonomy. You’re pro-my-autonomy until it comes to my work, and then you can’t accept the fact that I love to joke about fucking dogs.” It’s extremely cool to see her land such a high-profile gig—complete with promotional interviews on NPR (home base for well-meaning social media liberals) about the film’s cultural importance—but it’s also a little bit of a bummer that she couldn’t be more herself in that spotlight.
I don’t want to be too hard on Together Together. It’s cute. Twenty years ago, this soft-pedaled quirky comedy about an upper-middle age, upper-middle class tech bro (Helms) forming an unlikely bond with the twentysomething barista he’s paying to be his child’s surrogate mother (Harrison) almost certainly would’ve been a romcom, with the two leads falling for each other across generational and class divides. Instead, they establish a low-key platonic friendship, which is much trickier to navigate but a lot less icky. It’s mostly a film about boundaries. Their employer-surrogate relationship is contractually defined by legal & therapeutic boundaries that are set in ink & stone, but once they start finding comfort & pleasure in each other’s company, those lines are hopelessly blurred. They’re two deeply lonely people who very much need each other but don’t know how to express that need without violating the terms of their firmly established legal, financial dynamic. The movie quickly establishes this uneasy rapport in an opening interview where the barista is hired for the surrogate mother job, then it gently tracks their friendship’s rocky development across the pregnancy’s three trimester-chapters. It’s all very cute and charming and has no business being Rated R.
Even if another performer replaced Patti Harrison in the starring role, there’d still be something perverse about the way this movie assembles so many aggressively strange comedians for something so deliberately toothless. Jo Firestone, Anna Konkle, and Tig Notaro are very funny people, so why are they given so little room to make jokes? Julio Torres is the only comedian who’s fully set loose to be Funny here as Harrison’s spaced-out weirdo co-worker, while everyone else is mostly just asked to be awkwardly sweet. Still, it was nice to see so many talented performers in one spot. Hopefully it’ll be the kind of word-of-mouth charmer that’ll gradually make Patti Harrison a big enough name that she can star in a comedy molded closer to her own delightfully fucked up tastes. She deserves it. For now, this is decent enough as lazy-afternoon comfort viewing. It feels condescending to label a movie “cute” and “nice”, but there really no other words for what Together Together offers. I’m just a little confused why so many outrageously funny people had to be assembled to accomplish that.