With an event as significant as the COVID-19 pandemic, it can feel like a race to the finish line to create art inspired by this monumental point in history. And while some might give the side eye to a movie like Together — which follows the lives of a husband, wife and their son through the lockdown in Britain — it’s hard to deny the infectious energy of the final product. One that directors Stephen Daldry and Justin Martin execute to perfection.
Starring the always talented James McAvoy (“It: Chapter Two”) and Sharon Horgan (“Game Night”), the duo play an unnamed pair (credited as “He” and “She”) who evoke the picturesque millennial couple. Their house is quirky but refined, their fashion choices are professional but casual, and their kitchen is one part HGTV, another a tornado — all of which is perfectly brought to life by production designer Karen Wakefield and the rest of the talented art department. Yet like most relationships brought to life on the silver screen, not everything is as perfect as it appears between the leads — for though they try to keep things going for their son, Artie (Samuel Logan), this pandemic will be the ultimate test of their will to see this marriage through.
Shot in only ten days, Together feels equally as scrappy as it is skillfully made. And that sort of Gorilla-style production adds a specific kind of charm to it, from its first frame onward. Yet as the camera enters the home of our nameless couple, cinematographer Iain Struthers beautiful weaves viewers through the various conversations, fights, rooms, and mushroom-specific monologues, like the greatest of Broadway choreographers. In fact, much of Together feels like a play brought to life — in both the excellent rhythm of the acting at hand, along with the way in which Daldry and Martin cinematically orchestrate their cast.
From extreme amounts of fourth wall breaking to incredibly calculated sequences that seem like they are accomplished in one take, Daldry and Martin both seem like masters of their craft when it comes to making the must mundane and predictable elements of life an exciting aspect to watch. They similarly have just as fantastic of an understanding of the talent in front of their camera — for both McAvoy and Horgan are equally prolific in their performances here. Coming across like two tennis players attempting the greatest acting match of their careers.
For McAvoy, audiences have come to love him for some of his work, including of course his turn as Professor X in the “X-Men” prequel films, along with other projects like “Trance,” “Split,” and “The Last King of Scotland.” Yet in Together, audiences get to see an interesting side to McAvoy. One in which he plays a character that is a hilarious jerk, who speaks his mind in ways that are just as frustrating as they are for “She.” This particularly becomes apparent during a length story, in which McAvoy’s “He” describes an early pandemic trip to the grocery store. Maybe it is the hindsight of someone who has been experiencing a post-COVID-19 world, but moments like this (no matter how cute McAvoy may be) will likely make you want to pull your hair out by the end.
When it comes Horgan, her take on “She” is just as fascinating. From tender bits of warmth, to genuinely laugh-out-loud bits of insanity, Horgan perfectly portrays what so many women feel like in these kind of relationships. They examine over every detail of how they got to this point, question what they loved about that person, while also dreaming up ways to get revenge all at the same time. And Horgan brings to life every single one of those beats of her character like a true pro.
Though the true acting magic on display is when these two dynamite performers are together — allowing their characters to put their guard down for both the audience and for each other. And while its best not to dive too deep into their emotional evolution on screen, since its better to keep it a surprise, the end result is one that feels ultimately earned through-out the roller-coaster that is this cinematic marriage. Which is all due in large part to the chemistry of these two utterly believable performances.
But the true star of the entire film is the masterful screenplay from Dennis Kelly (“Black Sea”). From some of the most memorable spats in recent years (including one in which “She” compares her husband to “a pint glass of diarrhea”) to exchanges that feel so lifted from even my own life, it’s damn near hard not to appreciate both the creativity and believability within Kelly’s work. Yet it is the moments where Kelly allows for his pair to take a breath and examine the vulnerable nature at the core of their relationship that is something to be treasured — making the film go to places that other romantic dramas often dance around.
Sure, this is a movie that will always have its roots in one of the worst moments in human history. Yet despite such a sad fact, Together is one of the few COVID-centric films that works from almost beginning to end. It’s sharp wit, quirky sensibilities, and annoyingly real elements make for a memorable cinematic journey. One that is a stirring study of how relationships thrive during the hardest of times, especially when they’re already a mess to begin with. And while that might not be the movie most are looking for during these dark days, down the line, it might be one to revisit to see how far we (hopefully) come in our own personal, metaphorical, bubbles.