“Do I really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me during a f***ing* pandemic?” The question comes out of June’s (Katie Holmes) mouth when Facetiming a friend. June has found herself at an Airbnb during the commencement of the pandemic. She along with boyfriend John (Derek Luke) decided it would be a great time to get out of Manhattan while this thing “blows over in two weeks or so.” One problem—and it’s not the two weeks assumption—John intimates he must stay behind in the city to take care of parents while June has to go it alone.
To June’s surprise upon arriving at the Airbnb, someone is already there. The someone is Charlie (Jim Sturgess), recently single at the worst possible time. Two vastly different personalities, the initial awkwardness soon gives way to affection, giving June and Charlie much to think about as the world plunges into shelter-in-place.
Can we call the early stages of the pandemic “nostalgic” at this point? The word typically connotes some degree of positivity, so perhaps nostalgic isn’t the best adjective, yet there is something improbably odd in comforting thought when we think back to March 2020 (and it might just be because that time collectively pales in comparison to the times we are in now). Maybe it is that eureka-like liberation many of us finally got to experience and are still thriving with as it pertains to a remote work life, or the wild idea lodged back in our heads that in the time of isolation, the person we just matched with on whatever social app would be our de-facto significant other through choppy societal waters. Minus the swipe, the latter idea is the story Alone Together chooses to tell, kind of ineffectively.
The movie is the sophomore effort directing-wise from Holmes, who does a little of it all here in starring along with writing and producing. As one could imagine, it’s a COVID bare-bones production set directly in a story taking place in COVID time. From the opening credits to flourishes in the story’s “action,” Holmes seems to draw her inspiration from Woody Allen, Richard Linklater, and Rob Reiner, right down to a mid-movie bike ride paired with a fitting tune I can’t tell you what the name of it was. Long story short, her direction is perfectly adequate. As it tends to be in most romances, the camerawork is not the draw, or rather, it’s not that impactful to a movie being good or not.
Nope, these films achieve as long as their leads pair well together and the stories, albeit oft predictable, aren’t too saccharine and carry real heart. In Alone Together, where it ends up is far from surprising, but how it gets there sort of is; or more accurately, the assumptions and laziness it takes to get there. Alone Together is mostly done in by poor story pacing and misguided plotting. June and Charlie’s fated love bond feels rushed. On one hand, the speed of how fast June and Charlie take a liking to each other is part of the story, that being that these times we find ourselves in can make seven days spent together seem like seven years when we’re holed up in shelter. The theme building off of this of not losing oneself at the expense of being with someone else is a recurring one in the genre but one no less important. On the other hand, despite the “conducive” conditions for deep feelings, June and Charlie falling for one another should feel more organic than the mechanical way it plays out because the story makes it so.
Holmes also makes a curious script decision as it pertains to providing no clarity on whether or not June’s significant other in John cheated. Slight spoiler here, but a third of the way through June sees on Instagram that John has been tagged in a photo by his attractive co-worker, which sends June’s mind spiraling. Though it isn’t the sole spark in leading her into the direction of Charlie, it is certainly positioned as a big one, except nothing concrete is given as to whether John cheated. As is, June’s actions and toxic insecurity make her less likable.
As a writer, Holmes tries to “even the scales” in the last act by showing John to be quite the gaslighter when discussing June’s now in-limbo career thereby justifying her earlier decision, but it all again feels like the result of the story making it so and not characters progressively evolving or devolving. Some of these rough patches could be and have been overcome in similar films when the chemistry between—or in this case, among—lead cast members is natural and just clicks. Unfortunately, Luke/Holmes aren’t together enough from a screen time perspective to give us a sense of what brought them together, and Sturgess/Holmes are stuck in an awkward state and not the cute, sweet kind.
Alone Together would be a solid watch subtracting the romance for a platonic relationship. If it took the loose form of, say, Together Together, more of its story shortcomings would be transformed into strengths. As a pure romance, there isn’t anything here one couldn’t get at the same quality or possibly even higher from a feature on Lifetime.
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