Review: A “Pandemic” Movie, Together Puts a More Than a Year of Lockdown in Perspective

There are a select few actors whose work I will seek out simply because they are in it, and one of them is James McAvoy. Long before his days with the X-Men, the Scottish actor was popping up in a slew of romantic comedies and period pieces, from a supporting role in 2004’s Wimbledon to starring in Penelope opposite Christina Ricci and in Becoming Jane opposite Anne Hathaway, both contemporary classics in my book. Over the next decade, McAvoy expanded his resume with action flicks, M. Night Shyamalan thrillers and stints on television, too. Now, in Together, he stars opposite Sharon Horgan (“Castastrophe”) as a version of himself, or at least as something like it—a 40-something Scot living in present day London—and one of the best things about this charming, if slight, film is getting to enjoy McAvoy being McAvoy.

Image courtesy of Bleecker Street, credit: Peter Mountain

The film is so contemporary that it takes place during the pandemic, amounting to quite the talk-a-thon as it follows McAvoy and Horgan (credited only as “he” and “she” respectively) as they navigate the early days of lockdown in March 2020 through to early 2021 and the light at the end of the tunnel offered by a vaccine. Without much notice, this couple already on the verge of splitsdom finds themselves locked down in their tiny London cottage with their 10-year-old kid Artie (Samuel Logan) and not much to do but…talk. Directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Reader, several episodes of “The Crown”), with a co-director credit attributed to Justin Martin, and written by Dennis Kelly, Together has a distinctively stage-like feel about it, from its blocking and location to its rapid-fire dialogue. The film’s press notes confirm this was the original plan for the project, though with in-person theater performances still rare, a COVID-safe film production actually makes more sense. Shot in ten days in a London house (we never leave the first floor, though there’s a staircase in the entry way), McAvoy and Hogan quite literally carry the whole film, monologuing direct to camera as much as they dialogue with each other.

The film is just 91 minutes long, but it’s chock-full of character development and emotional punch, as McAvoy and Hogan each explain to us both their relationship history as well as their current states of mind as the weeks and months in lockdown drag on. They’re both quite forthcoming about the fact that they’re only still together for their son, that each has thought about leaving time and again, and that being “in this together” isn’t at all where they’d prefer to be at this particular moment. Interspersed between scenes are updates on time of year and, poignantly, the number of Brits lost to COVID-19 to date. Moving the film along sometimes months at a time, we rejoin the couple at various moments in their pandemic experience, and each time resonates anew. We’ve been here, after all. We’ve hit these lockdown walls. We’ve Zoomed one too many times, run out of things to do from home. As McAvoy and Hogan navigate their own emotional ups and downs, from illness and loss to rediscovering their shared sex drive and more, the journey remains watchable because it’s so relatable.

“Pandemic movies,” those filmed during and about the pandemic, probably only have a very limited shelf life; Together wouldn’t be nearly as effective as it is had it come out a year from now. By then, god willing, we’ll all have moved on and, sort of in the way films about the Trump administration now feel like a bad fever dream, films about the pandemic will most certainly hit differently then. Instead, watching this small, close film in this moment, as it reminds us of all that we’ve just been through without breaking our hearts about it, makes it clear that getting through all this “together” isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be…and that’s not only to be expected, it’s actually OK.

Together is now playing in select theaters.

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Lisa Trifone
Lisa Trifone
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