Any major event in society has an impact on the media created during and after that time. The coronavirus pandemic happens to be a particularly long-running and all-encompassing feature of the present time that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. It has already produced numerous shows about social distancing and remote connection, as well as films that deal with people trying to survive the danger and, frequently, idiocy of their neighbors and community members. Together is a film that falls distinctly within the genre but tackles its subject matter with a charged ferocity that gradually transforms into a more melancholy acceptance of a new reality.
On March 24th, 2020, two very unhappily coupled people (James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan) prepare for a just-announced lockdown in London. They are united by a love for their young son, Artie (Samuel Logan), but by little else. They alternate between arguing with each other and directly addressing the camera to comment on how they’re taking the situation, expressing their disbelief about what’s happening to their country, who’s to blame, and how it only reinforces the other’s inferiority. As time goes on, their perspectives begin to change as tensions bubble over and become unbearable.
This film begins in a very different way than it ends, which might itself be an apt metaphor for how people have evolved and changed their attitudes over the course of what has been a long and seemingly never-ending shift in norms of daily living. At first, the unnamed protagonists seem intent on hurting one another, lobbing insults that they know will sting because the state of the world gives them a reason to be even angrier than they already are. It doesn’t help that they dislike each other immensely, and that they would never have chosen to be quarantined together if they had any idea of how long it would last or any other alternative.
As they spend time chastising each other for the political views they harbor and the way they hold others accountable, these two begin to see a bit more of the other’s world. Because they speak directly to the audience, it’s an immersive journey that feels deeply intimate and resonant. The fronts they put on slowly begin to fade away, and what’s underneath is just as fascinating, revealing raw emotion and a vulnerability that makes them richer and fuller characters.
This film comes from director Stephen Daldry, who has previously helmed Oscar-honored fare such as The Hours, The Reader, Billy Elliot, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Here, he achieves a similarly poignant and cinematic effect but with considerably less to work with, operating within a small space and resigned there, not even permitted brief outings like his characters get when they must run crucial errands. It’s no surprise that the script by Dennis Kelly was originally written has a play, but the unavailability of stages during the pandemic resulted in the fortuitous and successful pivot to film.
Shot over just ten days, the content here is simple but pointed, with no time wasted on the less interesting moments that come in between the emphatic dialogue. McAvoy and Horgan are marvelously paired, channeling fury and passion into the way they interact and express their characters through the fourth wall. While many projects have captured either the comedy or the devastation the pandemic has created for many, this one manages to achieve a masterful balance of both, charting the rollercoaster course from one to the other and back again. It’s an involving, unnerving experience, one that still feels all too real and relevant as a return to what was once normalcy looks ever more unlikely.
Together opens in theaters on Friday, August 27th.