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Lockdown Love 

Together finds urgent emotion in a COVID-era relationship on the rocks.

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click to enlarge BLEECKER STREET FILMS
  • Bleecker Street Films
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I was not ready for the emotional roller coaster that is Together. It is funny and sad, sometimes in the same breath. It is afilm so fresh and raw that it almost feels like you shouldn't be watching it, and in more ways than one. It's absolutelystupendous, a small—so very small—film that is hugely moving, and is so much bigger than it seems to be. So much moresignificant.

This is a tale of the first year of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of one London couple, who are never named andare referred to in the credits as merely He and She. That could have come across as a cheap gimmick, except that the intimacywith which their lives are depicted never allows for that. Together is merely He and She (James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan)talking to each other, and how often do you say someone's name in such a context? (You won't even notice that they never saytheir names.) They also, very frequently, speak directly to the camera, directly to us, laughing and joking and raging and cryingabout the love-hate relationship they have been enduring—or so they say—purely for the sake of their young son, Arthur (SamuelLogan).

The kid mostly hovers in the background, when he's there at all. In this respect, Together has much in common with Horgan'sbrilliant Channel 4/Amazon Prime sitcom Catastrophe, both stories in which parenting is seen solely from the perspective of the parents, with no cutesytykes hogging either the screen or our sympathies. This conceit also serves to underscore the reality, often forgotten in pop-culturedepictions, that people are who parents aren't only parents.

He and She are also talking to each other within their own home ... and actually, only one time beyond the confines of their big open-plan kitchen, dining, and living space. The exception: a scene in the little yard just off their kitchen. Together brings a newcoziness to the notion of the domestic drama.

All this intimacy, both physical and psychological, is like a shiv that cuts through the bullshit of many similar stories, making nobones about the fact that love and hate can be merely opposite sides of the same coin in passionate relationships like the onesketched here. These are two people who know how to hurt each other, and often do. But how truly devoted they actually are to eachother is something that is revealed only late in the tale, almost a matter of anti-suspense, a thing we didn't even realize was inquestion.

Their personal and shared ups and downs are also playing out against the most stressful, most turbulent of backdrops: thepandemic. Depending on how fragile your state of mind has been (and may still be) with how the world has been thrown intodisarray, you might feel, as I did, that this was too soon. Together is inescapably about this very moment intime, about a slow-burning disaster that is still in motion, and it pokes at psychological wounds that have not yet even scabbedover, never mind healed. It will undoubtedly be looked back upon as a valuable time capsule of March 2020 to March 2021,specifically as experienced in London, as the U.K. rolled in and out of some of the strictest lockdowns in the Western world overthe course of the year. But for anyone who continues tostruggle with anxiety over a pandemic that is still out of control, Together may be overwhelming, and not necessarilyin a pleasant way.

That feeling of being deluged is only compounded by McAvoy's and Horgan's intense and cutting performances. Director StephenDaldry gives them long uncut takes in which anger, grief, fear, relief, and other extremes of emotion play out, often with theactors making direct eye contact with us, which is deeply compelling and empathetic. The film was shot quickly, in only 10 days,and is so urgent and honest that it feels improvised, though it is tightly scripted, by Dennis Kelly. Together combines thepower of film with the immediacy of theater for an experience that is so close to reality thatit's almost too much to take.

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