“Together” – Alone [MOVIE REVIEW]

James McAvoy (HE) and Sharon Horgan (SHE) in "Together." Photo courtesy of Peter Mountain / © Arty Films Ltd. 2021

James McAvoy (HE) and Sharon Horgan (SHE) in “Together.” Photo courtesy of Peter Mountain / © Arty Films Ltd. 2021

All hail Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy! Their latest film, a saga of the lockdown, is a tour de force for them as actors with an almighty “assist” from brilliant director Stephen Daldry (“The Reader,” “Billy Elliot) working from an incisive, vinegar-laced script by Dennis Kelly (“Matilda” the stage musical, “Utopia,” the television series).

The partnership of HE and SHE has run its course, approaching its logical vituperative end – separation. If they’ve stayed together this long it is only because of their young son Arthur. HE seethes with animosity; SHE loathes every breath he takes. They’re stuck! And it’s only the first day of the National Lockdown. March 24, 2020. Deaths from COVID-19 in the UK: 422.

The air is thick with anger and recriminations. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff’s George and Martha are a loving couple compared to HE and SHE on this first day. By breaking the fourth wall and having HE and SHE address us, the audience, directly, Daldry has created a genuine theater experience of such intimacy that you become a participant in their trials. This is not a faux documentary, it is a genuine conversation and it is Daldry’s genius in filming HE and SHE unflinchingly in close-up, that draws you in ever closer as a participant in their quarantine.

Early on, SHE tells him how much she hates him and how being with him one more moment might kill her faster than the mysterious virus overtaking the country. HE couldn’t agree more. What could possibly have been their initial attraction all those years ago. He’s a Tory (Conservative Party) and he considers her no less than a Socialist. They were incompatible from the start.

The days and weeks go on and the slings and arrows still find their marks but are slowing imperceptibly. Cracks begin to show in their mutual animosity. Sure, HE thinks laborers are lazy and that the refugee problem is destroying the country but HE thinks SHE’s amazing at the job she does working for an international refugee organization. HE points out that SHE’s the coordinator of the Western Europe operation finding placements for asylum seekers. SHE hates how HE uses his wealth and successful business as a cudgel against those less fortunate but SHE grudgingly concedes that HE worked his way up from nowhere even if the mere description of what HE does is pretentious. And laborers aren’t lazy!

SHE’s having a harder time because her mother is dying and she can’t do anything to help. HE reveals sympathy for her situation and an enduring love for her mother, Communist that she is. Laughing, SHE points out that her mother never got over the fall of the Berlin Wall. HE tries to assuage her feelings of guilt. There’s actually nothing that could be done anyway once she went into a Care Home. The Care Home was the very best solution. HE understands that her lack of contact, all of their lack of contact, is eating away at her. Where was the government guidance for this virus? Why did they take COVID sufferers out of the hospitals and put them in care homes with the uninfected? Her agonizing soliloquy about the complicity of government and healthcare in her mother’s final illness supports her feeling that her death by COVID was tantamount to a killing.

HE and SHE become more vulnerable. Time marches on. Cracks are beginning to show in their animosity. Little is improving outside. They still try at every opportunity to wound, but the willfulness of their actions are starting to slow. HE remembers an outing they took years earlier, a mushroom hunt, where he made a fricassee and had mistakenly cooked and eaten a suspect mushroom and become “deathly ill.” HE says, “ I thought I was going to die. I was at death’s door.” SHE retorts, “Yeah, you were at the door; you weren’t on the premises.” They laugh.

Sharon Horgan (SHE) and James McAvoy (HE) in “Together.” Photo courtesy of Peter Mountain / © Arty Films Ltd. 2021

The virus marches on as the deaths mount in exponential proportions, and still they are together as the forced closeness begins to change his world view in myriad ways. At the beginning, He really didn’t “get” their son Artie. Strange little boy, HE thought. But now that HE is homeschooling Artie, he really sees him. SHE loves that HE has taken on the home schooling and is doing a bang up job. In sideways glances, they begin to see each other differently.

But why spoil the fun of the acidic, hilariously vitriolic dialogue between these two amazing actors who so ably convey the chemistry of love and hate while brilliantly detailing the horrifying statistics of a year in the life of COVID-19.

Sharon Horgan, most recently seen in “This Way Up” and “Military Wives” and James McAvoy (“X-Men” franchise, “Atonement”) are masters at their craft and have us rapt and wrapped from their very first invectives. Their actual accents, hers Irish and his Scottish, effectively erect another barrier against each other in language and hostility. Daldry keeps the pace in motion as though he had choreographed their movement and speech. There is an almost musical tone to Kelly’s script. He, like Daldry, has great experience in writing and staging musical theater and it shows in the rhythm of the actors’ dialogue and their accents. Nothing is accidental.

“Together” is by far the best film of this year or many of the past. If the film, Daldry, Kelly, Horgan, and McAvoy don’t get nominated for Academy Awards then there is no justice in this still infected and afflicted world.

This wonderful, transformative film is a must-see. It captures most everything at any given moment that each and every one of us experienced during that first year of lockdown, still with no real normalcy in sight. See it twice! The first viewing astonished me with the language and the relationship; the second gob-smacked me with how subtly and cleverly Daldry and Kelly incorporated a history of the disease into the scenario. The relationship, the changes, the hate and the love are all intricately interwoven with the effects of the disease on society in general and the complicity of government mismanagement in particular.

March 23, 2021. Deaths from COVID-19 in UK: 126,284

Opening August 27 at the Landmark on Pico, the Laemmle Monica, the Laemmle NoHo 7, and the Pasadena Playhouse 7.



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