In the dramedy Together Together, director-writer Nikole Beckwith brings a new perspective to the rom-com genre by avoiding the formulaic grooves most mainstream features suffer from. Joey was fond of it at the Sundance Film Festival, as you can see here.
Ed Helms (The Hangover) plays Matt, a 45-year-old who is enthusiastically embarking on parenthood on his own. Patti Harrison (Hulu’s Shrill) is Anna, a 26-year-old loner, who Matt hires to be a surrogate. At first glance, they’re an unlikely pair, but through their romantic friendship, they discover new truths about parental roles and how love exists between two strangers who are going through separate life journeys together.
What transpires is a lovely subversive story that sets to unpack the conversation of surrogacy as it exists in our society today and the idea of modern love.
Actors Ed Helms and Patti Harrison are open and undeniably charming as Matt and Anna, breathing life into Beckwith’s refreshing take.
Awards Radar spoke with Ed Helms and Patti Harrison about Together Together and the unique conversation the film has around surrogacy.
Niki Cruz: How was it to premiere this at virtual Sundance? I imagine it’s different because you’re not getting the audience’s reaction in person.
Ed Helms: I’m very lucky to have been to Sundance a bunch of times before so being invited this time around with this movie was very bittersweet. It’s always such a privilege and very exciting to be a part of the festival, but to not get to go, especially with this team, is such a bummer. Not to be able to hang out in Park City and party together, and celebrate this project that we all worked so hard on, but at the end of the day, it IS still Sundance, and it’s still so cool to be a part of. I’m really touched by the reaction it got at Sundance — it’s extremely cool. Patti, this is your first Sundance, so this is all you know.
Patti Harrison: Yeah, I loved it! I hope it stays this way with all little digital avatars running around with computer-animated after parties, and everyone is just talking too close on their zoom mics.
NC: These two bond through watching old sitcoms. It’s the kind of thing that feels habitual during the pandemic. Any series either of you picked up during this time?
PH: Yes, gosh, I’ve watched so much TV. Raised by Wolves was a show on HBO Max that I loved. I watched all of Search Party. I watched Emily In Paris [Laughs]
EH: I have a 3-year-old, so I watched Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Helpsters, which I highly recommend.
NC: Surrogacy is still seen as unconventional, but we’re slowly having conversations about it. I love how the film showcased that these two characters are going through this together but have different experiences with it just from where they are naturally in life.
PH: Yeah, I think it does an amazing job of illuminating the arc of these two characters as they go through this process. I didn’t know a lot about surrogacy before working on this movie, so I did have preconceived notions about it, and yeah, it’s very interesting to see. Society tells us that having a baby is so intimate; it’s this familial thing where it’s entrenched in romantic love and that a baby should be between that. There’s also a societal reaction to the idea of surrogacy where it’s seen as being this weirdly detached gross thing and the dissolving of the nuclear family unit. Those pressures — whether you believe in them are not — are ever-present when we make a moral choice to do a thing, and I think it’s a big moral choice to have a baby on your own or to have a baby for someone. So, I thought it was a very detailed point of view that Nikole took when she wrote it.
NC: You never get to see this narrative from the lone father’s perspective of how the male biological clock plays out. That must have been great to unpack.
EH: Yeah, I think this story is really cool because it’s not told very often, whereas men don’t have a literal biological clock in the same sense that women do, I think there very much is an emotional attachment to how we picture parenthood figuring into our lives, and when, and what time, and what chapter of our lives, and that creates a lot of pressure and tension in men as well. Nikole tapped into that in a very compassionate and honest way. The story of this movie is so simple which is kind of scary as an actor. When I read the script, I wondered, “Do I have enough to bite into here?” but Nikole just approached the whole thing with a ridiculous amount of confidence and allowed us to settle into this thing and portray these characters so earnestly. I’m so proud of the result.
NC: Usually, in comedy, it’s been framed as this existential dilemma that centers around the man child, where the character has to deal with the reckoning of maturing before a baby enters the world. In this story, Matt is fully embracing this change in his life, which is refreshing.
EH: I think you’re exactly right. I’ve certainly played my share of man children throughout my comedy career [Laughs].
NC: That kind of character had its place in comedy.
EH: Maybe it’s kind of run its course culturally, and we’re at a point now where that’s not as funny or endearing as it once was. Maybe that’s a good thing. I really love the character of Matt and what’s beautiful about him is how humble and earnest he is and honest. Part of the dynamic with Anna — the reason why I think they connect so well — is that they’re both very transparent with each other and let each other in, in a real way.
NC: Traditional romance isn’t at the forefront of the film — it’s this platonic love. It completely deconstructs what we think of in terms of a conventional rom-com. How was it to play with that tone with a fresh perspective as actors?
PH: It was a question I had going into the movie of, “What is the tone? How do you want me to play this?” I did say, “You picked me and Ed, and all these other comedians so is this supposed to be funnier than I think?” And Nikole said to me, “It’s a grounded story. I just like you as actors.”
It was a process of having a lot of conversations and figuring out the tone of that because it sits in between genres and straddles them a little bit. It’s kind of commenting on a whole genre itself. I think it’s what makes the movie so subtle and nuanced. It’s an embracing movie to watch, but the layers of it are subversive where they are challenging these conventions of the genre and the expectations of romantic comedy. The more you look at it, the more layers there are to see.
NC: As a culture, we’re obsessed with the “will they won’t they” saga in RomComs. It’s been so ingrained in storytelling when it comes to love. These characters find their own way to happiness that doesn’t feel like it has to arrive at this final answer. What do you hope for your character’s journey past the film’s end?
PH: When we meet the character Anna, she’s in this really detached place; she’s estranged from her family and friends. She’s a loner — she’s isolated and away. Where the movie leaves off is she’s going out into the world to be with other people, and I hope she’s able to reassimilate a little bit and not view herself as this stunted person who doesn’t deserve those things.
Together Together hits theaters April 23rd and is available digitally on May 11th.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]