Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2022 10:08 pm 
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A very glib talky COVID confinement two-hander that winds up going around in circles

This is, inevitably, a closet drama. Filmed over ten days for television, and doubtless well suited to the small screen, it depicts a period of home COVID lockdown of a man and woman (they have a child) who profess, at the outset, to cordially dislike each other and not to look forward to the prolonged time together this situation will entail. These are two excellent actors, but despite some very fluent, not to say glib, writing from the fluent pen of Dennis Kelly, they cannot, alas, save the proceedings from being uneventful, talky, highly theatrical, and ultimately forgettable. Those actors are James McAvoy ("He"), Sharon Horgan ("She"), and young Samuel Logan ("Artie"), a small family in London together for long months of confinement. The time doesn't feel so long so much as repetitive and unproductive. The film skips through it, using intertitles to highlight successive chunks of it. The film feels long nonetheless, because a super-talky but otherwise eventful film about COVID is not what most of us probably need to see right now. Not now, if ever. But Stephen Daldry: he's a good director, right? And James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan: ace actors, right? How can we go wrong? Well, this is a well-made kind of unambitious film that you probably won't remember beyond next week. McAvoy puts on "his" cute Scottish accent, she her mildly colorful English one. They talk a lot. It's very static.

The theme is of a man and woman forced to re-evaluate themselves (a little) and their relationship as a couple (at length) through the reality of the COVID-19 lockdown. Tjeu have a child and a nice house, but normally they are away much of the day. And now, all of a sudden, they are together. They're presumably the kind of posh people who can work at home. This is a topic that is neglected - the work; toward the end we learn his company has gone under, but little else about it except that he's the one who's had to tell employees they've lost their jobs. But after flirting with the idea of getting married, she assures him they should stay together. They love-hate each other too much to want to be with anyone else. The ups and downs of their feelings as a couple are marked by intertitles showing the successive dates. External events are indicated by things they say, but not in great detail.

This is a very low-keyed drama. Imagine a story in which a big action moment in the last quarter comes when he makes aubergine (eggplant) fritters, which upon Artie's confession that he does not like aubergines, he throws in the garbage. Most of the time they are in the kitchen. They talk. They come and go and then they talk some more. Time passes. Feelings shift. In the end, they feel a little bit less hostile - if they ever really were hostile and not just playacting - than they did at the beginning, and their relationship has, after all, survived.

The setting is a cozy, homely kind of nice London house. There's an upstairs, because that's where the kid goes, the young son who's hardly used at all in this two-hander of lengthy addresses across the fourth wall to us, about themselves and their relationship.

The theme is that hate is a kind of love. This is an exploration, as COVID lockdown could be, of whether a couple can stand each other. "He" and "She" begin by stating that they absolutely despise each other. He hates her mouth. She hates him. No reasons why, they just do. They've been together too long, the love, if there ever was any has drained away, and being in close proximity 24/7 looks like an eternal damnation. All this feels artificial, especially so since it is declared with frequent turns of the head to us, the audience, who are not really there.

Vicariously, at a distance, the big centerpiece event is the death of her mother, who is in a care home (a nursing home) and taken to a hospital very ill with COVID, where she dies. A doctor they know is with her, and while she is only allowed to be with her mother for fifteen minutes, the doctor promises to be there when she passes, and then he isn't, because he has another patient who had no one, who is also passing.

McAvoy has also begun wearing a man-bun. Horgan keeps the same hair-do.

After a pause, the revelation is that "He" and "She," of all things, have begun having sex. Regularly, solidly. Sex! Not dreamy, sensational sex, but it's good. And good for them. Eventually they go over an incident of some mushrooms in which she, or was it he? out of anger or spite fed the other wild mushrooms with the indention not of murder, but doing serious harm. This is an example of the cover-all writing that leaves us with nothing, because as it turns out she remembers wrong and he got the mushrooms, and they both ate them, and they did no harm. A sin of ill intent, one supposes, but a fairly notional one. This is the kind of thing that on a stage, with dramatic acting, might be more effective. In McAvoy's kind of flowing, understating, which never ceases to impress, it's more of a "let's just forget about it" kind of climax.

What she cannot forget about is the death of her mother, and with him in the background, she goes into a monologue on the theme that she now thinks her mother was "killed." Teo explain this she describes the government's failures, its crucial delays in beginning to address the pandemic and Boris Johnson's idiotic behavior, the way nursing homes were virtually force-infected with COVID patients.

Meanwhile relations are sort-of better: "I don't think I hate you anymore," he declares, and "So let's f'ing get married, then." More talk follows, recounting bad behavior on her part around vaccine-getting. It's March 2021, and they are having bad relations again.

And then, after another story of bad COVID behavior by a non-mask-wearer in a convenience story who gets up far too close to an employee, and an employee's cool reaction to his (McAvoy's) gush about how she's a "hero," it finally comes, they hate-love all over again and his declaration: "I sort of love you." It is a very bittersweet kind of love. But they are staying together, for now, and they kiss. And kiss again, more sweetly. THE END.

Together, 93 mins., was released in Canada, Ireland, England and the USA in June and August 2021. It has not fared well with US critics, as indicated by the Metacritic rating of 59%. Reviewed here as part of San Francisco's Mar. 2022 Mostly British festival, showing 3:15 PM, Sat., Mar. 12, 2022.

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