Review: Ed Helms and Patti Harrison make a perfect platonic match in ‘Together’

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The prodding inquiries — “Have you ever stolen anything? ” “Are a person religious? ” “What’s the particular worst thing you’ve actually done? ” — that will open Nikole Beckwith’s simple, charming dramedy “Together” don’t spring from a shateringly intrusive first date. Rather, as an open Anna (Patti Harrison) spills her proclivity for thieving pens and her experience of putting her baby up for adoption during high school to a perplexed Matt (Ed Helms), she’s interviewing to become his surrogate.

“This appeals to me personally because I know it’s not the best thing in the world, being alone, ” rambles Anna, as a piano’s inviting notes stutter to some comedic stop. Helms’ significant reactions, delivered with aplomb, interlock delightfully with Harrison’s wry appeal.

For Matt, Anna symbolizes his third attempt in fatherhood — his earlier eight-year relationship came to naught and Beckwith’s slight script never divulges the other attempt. Either way, Matt desperately desires this bid to succeed. You obtain the feeling that the 26-year old Anna might be his last chance.

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The simple installation, which sees Harrison, a transgender actress cast inside a cisgender role, allows for interesting subversions of the rom-com frame while remaining familiar at its core. Seeing disparate individuals brought together by chance, empathizing despite their particular differing backgrounds, is one of the things that draws us to films. The easeful, unvarnished rapport Helms and Harrison produce through their touching shows is the steady cradle for this brisk two-hander.

The lonesome humor plus hurt propelling “Together” splinters the film from other examples in the growing subgenre of meditative fertility narratives. Beckwith’s caustic tone diverges from Jeremy Hersh’s “The Surrogate, ” wherein the titled surrogate learns her baby tested positive for Down syndrome, leading to a morally complicated choice. Tamara Jenkins’ intimate dark-comedy, “Private Life, ” mines a couple’s long struggle with male fertility to elucidate the methods such endless battles wear down its resilient participants. The love burrowing inside “Together” is platonic, and the separate lifelong disappointments experienced by Anna and He is shared but much less entangled.

Ould – works as a barista at a cafe. She hasn’t attended university, leaving school and the girl estranged family by relocating to San Francisco after the girl pregnancy. She hopes the money from Matt will finance an accelerated degree system in Vermont. The inversion of her fortunes — how one pregnancy shut a door, whereas this will open another — is not just symmetrical. Anna’s gestation will certainly lead to two (re)births: this child and Anna’s long term.

Matt’s life, similarly, is within limbo. His friends possibly have families or are usually “desperately clinging to the corpse of their youth, ” leaving behind Matt without real connections. In three chapters — titled the first, second plus third trimester — Beckwith carefully unpacks the insecurities lurking underneath these two unfulfilled figures.

An app designer, Matt gained a sizable fortune creating a system called “Loner, ” that allows users to low-grade track others online without disrupting physical boundaries. Matt regularly overcompensates; he brings a life-sized teddy bear to Anna that might as well have lamps saying “metaphor” above this, expects her to log her food intake and provides a daily thermos of pregnancy tea to her job.

In strained limited frames, he’s regularly amazed by Anna’s despondency towards the baby, never comprehending precisely why Anna would steal their self from the eventual heartbreak of giving up the child. He’s simply so giddy. His exhilaration reels her into, sometimes, an one-sided partnership that’s without boundaries and likewise, Alex Somers’ playful single cello score turns nursery rhyme in tone. Helm and Harrison’s honest portrayals, their sharp give-and-go’s, pack this burgeoning platonic love having a delicacy that in lower hands would either be overtly sexual — like a Woody Allen romantic comedy, as Anna jokes regarding their age gap — or strictly transactional.

Instead, biting loneliness pervades their journey. See, long-striving couples usually seek the particular surrogacy route, not one men like Matt. And surrogates typically find peace of mind in a support system at home. Whenever Anna and Matt individually attend group therapy, they discover the uniqueness of their particular situations, deriving only a right amount of consolation from the other participants. Their niche creates a void, a need for a good empathetic voice, a fulfillment they can only find in each other. They watch “Friends” together — an allusion that feels too to the nose by the film’s finish — support the other’s dreams and commiserate about terrible families.

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Both Anna plus Matt bear the weight of overbearing, judgmental mothers. Anna’s family appears in glimpses: Her mother leaves the prying voicemail after finding the pregnancy, and a feasible sighting of her dads occurs at the coffee shop. They actively exist in her mind, the way floodwaters recede only to return at undesirable times. And since Ould – keeps them at a distance, we are kept there too. Although Matt’s mother (Nora Dunn) appears, their complex partnership, the particular disappointment she has on her son, leaves one seeking greater detail.

For all the sizable gains Beckwith accrues building out Ould – and Matt’s platonic friendship, she loses as much underdeveloping the intriguing supporting gamers. Matt solely knows Anna’s sardonic gay co-worker, Jules (Julio Torres), as the person who exchanges cold stares along with him. Jean (Sufe Bradshaw), a dryly sarcastic medical technician, and the involuntary market to Anna and Matt’s disagreements — whether Ould – should have sex with other males while pregnant or exactly why they shouldn’t know the baby’s gender — provides huge deadpan laughs. The pair’s couples therapist, Madeline (Tig Notaro), is often two lines short of meaningful revelations. Dunn, Torres, Bradshaw and Notaro all instill their character types with a deeper interiority than the script allows, making them marked additions whose inchoate presence further frustrates viewers the greater frustrated.

Beckwith’s breezy dramedy starts to work through the third trimester: Ould – asks for stricter boundaries from Matt, only to relent without having reason, causing the formerly spontaneous “Together” to blowing wind to a predictable finish. Whilst a filmmaker needn’t offer every answer or explore every avenue, Beckwith constantly teases bigger pitches than she delivers.

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Exactly why did Anna ultimately reunite with Matt? Why do she again knowingly open herself to possible sorrow? These questions, akin to the intrusive inquiries of the opening sequence, require a ruthless integrity, an honesty Beckwith eliminates in lieu of less- complicated pastures. By the grace of a gifted cast, especially the dependable Helms and the revelatory Harrison, “Together” is a special, albeit incomplete search for friendship in the unlikeliest of places.

‘Together’

Rating: R, for some sexual references and language

Operating time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Generally release April 23; electronic release May 11