In theaters Aug. 27 and on demand and
digital on Sept. 14
The lens turns inward as we witness one year of pandemic living in a London couple’s home that they share with their introverted young son, Artie (Samuel Logan). “He” is James McAvoy and “She” is Sharon Horgan, no first names, and they are forced to re-evaluate themselves and their relationship during the challenging reality of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Too soon? By using the fourth wall, “Together” shines a harsh light on a stormy couple stuck with each other during an unprecedented worldwide health crisis.
This scaled-down tete-a-tete reflects immediacy and the ever-changing contemporary experiences of the people, family and country just trying to make it safely out alive.
We’re informed, with periodic date stamps, of the escalating number of coronavirus cases and death toll as two adults tell us what they’re feeling, which is framed by what’s happening in the broader world.
The pair establish early on that they reluctantly remain together because of their son, Arthur, who is a shadowy presence in their middle-class living quarters. Through nit-picking, digs and frequent bickering, they make it very clear that they already can’t stand each other. While sheltering in place, they are stir-crazy, of course, which compounds their agitation, but occasionally, there is a breakthrough of compassion. Hmmm…
This fractured relationship, which they eagerly discuss without any filter, wears thin quickly because of the bitterness, incessant quarrelling, and lack of patience. It feels uncomfortable, as if we’re intruding in someone else’s deeply personal drama, like overhearing a phone conversation -- but we’re not invested in them.
Given the actuality of the situation, there is little relief from the claustrophobic conditions – physically, emotionally and mentally.
Most of their diatribes take place in their kitchen as they make dinner or do chores, just ordinary daily life. Director Stephen Daldry, three-time Oscar nominee for “Billy Elliot,” “The Hours” and “The Reader” who has been working on “The Crown,” and co-director Justin Martin, mostly known as a second unit director for “The Crown,” slyly move the cast around to not appear so stagnant – and theatrical.
Their sharp eyes for details – He breads eggplant (aubergine) for dinner, referencing an earlier encounter; Artie’s artwork fills the walls as the seasons change, and even the content of grocery bags on the counter – make the setting lived-in. Kudos to the subtle touches from production designer Karen Wakefield.
The story’s construction gets weary. We know they love their son, so it’s wincing to see him as a ‘second thought,’ while they brim with all this vitriol. The parenting duties seem like an after-thought.
The sharp, likeable actors deliver their lines conversationally, with the rapid-fire needling, correcting and disagreements feeling improvised. Speaking in his native Scottish, the always interesting McAvoy talks fast and easily shifts between moods. He’s as at home with period dramas (“Atonement,” “The Conspirator”) as he is with popular entertainment (Charles Xavier in the “X-Men” prequels) and dark thrillers (“Split,” “It Chapter Two”).
Like McAvoy, quick witted Sharon Horgan, so engaging in “Catastrophe,” which she co-created, is nimble with the discourse.
She’s a liberal charity worker and he’s a conservative entrepreneur, an odd couple to be sure. Their oil-and-water situation adds doubt that they will be able to work it out.
But can they? Through some hairpin turns, they are forced to look within themselves and figure out what drew them together.
At times, they redeem their characters through truth. Can peace, love and understanding be sustainable? That is one intriguing aspect -- but is it too little, too late?
The film, shot over 10 days, starts the action beginning on March 24, 2020, as the UK lockdown begins, and ends a full year later. COVID-19 intrudes with She’s elderly mother, who lives in a care facility, and then is hospitalized. Experiencing a loved one’s decline is told through accounts of interacting with health care workers.
That helpless feeling about the lethal virus is familiar. We know how exhausting it has been. We can relate in the small moments to the anger, fear and confusion.
Perhaps reliving a public health emergency that is so fresh through an acerbic relationship, even if it is tinged with hope, is only a curiosity. After a year in isolation, cases still rage with no end in sight.
As artists and storytellers sort out our human experiences of the past 18 months, this work will not be a definitive statement. Nevertheless, the performers are engaging – but I wish their story would have been more illuminating.
Overall, this structure may have worked better as a play. Screenwriter Dennis Kelly, who won a Tony Award for his book of “Matilda the Musical,” has a background in theater.
While this peculiar movie is a tight 90-minutes, sometimes, we do not want to be a fly in the wall for that long, making “Together” not as satisfying as it could have been.