“Together” shouldn’t be tossed out as just another pandemic movie. It’s true that it takes place during the U.K.’s coronavirus lockdown, but at its heart, “Together” is about a marriage on the rocks. It’s about a warring couple reassessing their relationship while confined inside of their London townhouse. It’s combative, toxic and often unpleasant. But the real challenge for audiences won’t be the film’s nastiness. It will be the aggressive style of storytelling that forces the viewer to play a part in every scene.
The story literally begins on March 24th, 2020, “the first day of national lockdown“, and ends approximately one year later. We’re introduced to a well-off London couple in their 40’s who we only know as He and She (James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan – both brilliant). It only takes a few seconds to see that their relationship is strained and has been since well before the virus hit. In fact, their opening salvo of insults makes their disgust with each other pretty clear.
But not everything is so caustic. There’s just as much needling and petty bickering as the two characters find all sorts of ways to unload years of resentment. Ultimately He can’t stand the sight of her. She hates being in the same room with him. They’ve stuck together this long for their 10-year-old son Arthur (Samuel Logan).
While the quarrelsome couple have their heated one-on-ones, the vast majority of their conversations are with us, the viewer. Kelly’s script makes us quite literally the third adult in the room, and over half of the movie sees McAvoy and Horgan breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the camera. At different times throughout the film’s 90 minutes we’re asked to be the couple’s silent mediator, therapist and confidant. It adds an unexpected intimacy, but it also puts us right in the middle of some pretty fiery exchanges.
All of that may sound unbearable, but over time the hateful sparring takes a different tone. Instead of constantly being at each other’s throats, we begin to see cracks in the couple’s hardened exteriors as the lockdown affects them both in different ways. Their mutual contempt begins softening, only to be replaced by feelings of fear, isolation and despondency. It doesn’t necessarily make the movie easier to watch, but it brings new dimensions to the characters and adds some much-needed layers of humanity.
While Kelly’s script begins by using the lockdown to introduce his two characters, the film’s second half sees him turning the tables and using his characters to comment more openly on the pandemic. Nothing captures the film’s fury quite like She’s experience with her ailing mother who is put in a nursing home just as the pandemic starts, but later catches the virus after the government decides to move COVID-positive patients into elderly care facilities. That’s the kind of maddening hard-to-swallow truth that will make “Together” resonate with some while alienating others.