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Film Review: Together Together

27 September 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1114

In Together Together, writer-director Nikole Beckwith presents the complex relationship between Matt and Anna, a couple only in the sense of being two people. Matt, played by Ed Helms, is a 45-year-old app developer whose previous two attempts at fatherhood were unsuccessful. He feels the 'ticking clock' of parenthood, and turns to surrogacy as a means of fulfilling his dream, self-conscious of being a straight, single man. Anna, played by Patti Harrison, is the cynical 26-year-old gestational surrogate, who delivers – quite literally – Matt's dream.

Set in California, Anna and Matt fumble through the first trimester of the pregnancy, giving us a feel of the awkwardness of navigating boundaries. Matt overcompensates, bringing a comically large stuffed bear (the go-to gift in romantic comedies) to Anna's antenatal appointment. Shortly thereafter, we see Matt trying – and failing – to police Anna's diet, and a light-touch discussion about bodily autonomy ensues. In fact, Anna's autonomy is brought up throughout this trimester, cleverly discussed in the various couples' counselling sessions they attend together.

Blurry boundaries established, the second trimester is all about navigating and testing the waters of their relationship. California surrogacy agencies host frequent and separate support groups for surrogates and intended parents, and we see Anna and Matt recognise the uniqueness of their situation, as neither has a supportive partner at home. They must rely on each other instead, and this realisation prompts them to get closer. They start to spend more time together, with Anna helping Matt make critical decisions such as choosing the right shade of blue-green for the nursery.

As the second trimester progresses, the chemistry between Anna and Matt builds, and Matt sometimes makes suggestions hinting towards a heteronormative fantasy outcome. Beckwith thankfully resists imbuing their relationship with any sexual tension, instead choosing to focus on the liminality of their relationship: more than a typical friendship, not quite a relationship, and money is involved. As Jules, Anna's sardonic gay almost too Gen-Z co-worker points out, 'Just because you're not like together, together, doesn't mean that you haven't created a bond!'

At the baby shower, she is objectified in almost every interaction, with some only speaking to the baby bump, others touching her without permission, and ultimately, with Matt's mother referring to her as unrelated to the baby. This brings to light many of her insecurities, as well as the realisation that she has started to feel attached to both Matt and the future baby. This culminates in her asking for stricter boundaries for the last trimester.

The third trimester sees them both struggle independently, while preparing for the birth. We see the extent to which they're both alone and lonely, while maintaining some charade of friendship during the birthing classes. In a predictable – yet welcome – fashion, they realise they are better suited together, especially in these last few weeks. It's unclear why Anna felt the need to reconnect and how their relationship will play out post-partum, and instead of interrogating this, Beckwith leaves the audience pondering 'now what?'

I enjoyed the lack of expectations thrust onto Anna and Matt. Their relationship truly is difficult to comprehend and, unless experienced, indescribable. I wouldn't be surprised if Beckwith consulted empirical research on the topic when fine-tuning the script. For example, Dr Zsuzsa Berend's book The Online World of Surrogacy demonstrates how surrogates discuss their relationship with intended parents in somewhat romantic terms.

Together Together reveals the intricacies ever-present in surrogacy, even when there are no unexpected hurdles. The discussions about autonomy are light-hearted, yet still ask the audience to ponder how much is surrendered in surrogacy arrangements. For example, Matt wants a food diary to be kept up-to-date with what Anna is eating, which is easy enough in the second trimester when they're getting along, but a little less so when the relationship is strained in the third.

I would highly recommend this film to anyone wanting to understand the relationships that exist outside of our usual rigid categories (platonic, romantic, familial). Similarly, I hope acceptance of alternative and modern family structures is accompanied by more insightful redefinitions of masculinity, such as the one presented by Helms. As surrogacy is on the rise, (see BioNews 1114), I hope media portrayal of these relationships will become more mainstream.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Together Together
IMDb |  20 September 2021
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