May 8, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Sundance 2021: ‘Together Together’ targets Woody Allen

In the movie “Together Together,” a 40-something man, Matt (Ed Helms), meets a 20-something woman named Anna (Patti Harrison). But don’t expect the two of them to fall in love. At least, not the kind of romantic love typically portrayed in Hollywood rom-coms.

Matt hires Anna to be the gestational surrogate for a child he plans to raise on his own. Over the course of the pregnancy, the two find themselves spending more time together than expected and their relationship deepens.

“Together Together” is written and directed by Nikole Beckwith, who was previously at Sundance in 2015 with “Stockholm, Pennsylvania.” Her new film, which premiered on Sunday, is playing at the festival as part of the U.S. dramatic competition.

As part of the virtual L.A. Times Talks @ Sundance panel, sponsored by Chase Sapphire, Beckwith, Helms and Harrison talked about collaborating on the project.

In its exploration of an intensifying friendship and a relationship with something of a ticking clock attached, the film has many of the beats of a conventional romantic comedy but upends them at every turn.

“I think that the relationship between Matt and Anna isn’t what we see as romantic, but I do think that there is a lot of romance in falling in friend-love, just as much as there’s romance falling in any other kind of love,” said Beckwith. “I think you’re nervous. You feel a little lighter. Like, all of those things that we attribute to falling in love apply to whatever kind of love we fall in.

“I think culturally we’re obsessed with love stories and romantic love and happily ever after. And I think we fall in so many different kinds of love over the course of a life,” Beckwith said. “I do think that the dynamic, which we’ve become so accustomed to, an older man and a younger woman, is the bread and butter of romance and a large part of the landscape. And I do think that pairing [in the film] — they have a lot to offer each other. But it doesn’t have to be sexualized and it doesn’t have to be based on romance or physicality or how attracted anyone is to each other. It can be about something deeper.”

Harrison appreciated the point of view of Beckwith’s screenplay from the first time she read it.

“It just felt like a very specific and rare point of view and kind of this super delicate attention to detail that Nikole is a surgeon about,” said Harrison. “It was just handled in such an interesting, intelligent way. It’s so interesting to be close to Nikole now and then watch the movie and knowing the way the little machines in her mind work and them appearing in the movie and the way the characters are talking to each other. And it just feels really special. It feels like it’s having a more detailed, challenging conversation that you don’t see as often.”

For Helms, the role is more earnest and emotionally resonant than his work in comedies like “The Office” or “The Hangover” trilogy. Beckwith explained how she purposely cast the actor to play something contrary to his typical screen persona, even if he was not entirely aware of that fact.

“At this point in my career, I have a reasonably good sense of the pigeonholes that I’ve either carved out for myself or been jammed into over the past couple of decades,” said Helms. “I think it’s fun to play hapless, well-intentioned idiots, but that has evolved a lot now for me.

“I’m just eager to kind of spread my wings and do other things,” he added. “And so I can’t say that I was super aware of Nikole’s intention to kind of put some English on the expectation of Ed Helms, but I just saw an opportunity to do something a little bit more kind of understated and real.

“I’m going to get real heady for a second, but acting can be sort of like fractals: The more you zero in on something, the more complex and beautiful it is,” Helms said. “And so sometimes so much less is so much more. And that’s something that I don’t think anyone would accuse me of for most of my career, but I’ve certainly come to understand and appreciate so much more as I’ve matured as a performer. I’m not a mature person but I have matured as a performer.”

At one point in the film, Anna explains to Matt all that she dislikes about Woody Allen movies and their reliance on the romance between an older man and a younger woman, pointing out specific dynamics from “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall.”

Beckwith acknowledged that she was working out some of her own feelings via the character.

“Part of my hunger for this story is the deficit created by stories like that,” said Beckwith. “And so while I was writing that scene I was going for it, and as I was writing it I was like, ‘This movie will never get made. No one will ever make this movie with these lines in there.’ But they did.

“And I have said before and I’ll say again, I think Woody Allen movies did for romance what internet porn did to sex. Kind of really created this strange extreme that is this idealized thing, and you think this is how it is.” said Beckwith. “This old decrepit, nebbishy guy who’s an asshole is going to get these beautiful young women who look to him for approval all the time on everything. And that’s not true.

“I really did think while I was writing it, ‘No one will make this movie.’ There’s such reverence for those films,” said Beckwith. “And I was very pleased that nobody asked me to take it out. I was kind of thinking there would be pushback, and there wasn’t.”

Chase Sapphire has no influence over editorial decisions or content.