Is ‘Together Together’ the beginning of new genre the platonic rom-com?

“Together Together” is everything you could want in a romantic comedy – minus the romance. Sort of.

We’ve come to expect the traditional kind of romantic comedy from the likes of Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers classics, and newer hits like “Set It Up” and “Long Shot.”  But “Together Together” (in theaters April 23 and on demand May 11), starring Ed Helms and Patti Harrison, explores what it means to fall in platoniclove. And that’s not the only tradition the movie bucks in favor of inclusivity.

Matt (Helms), who is single and tired of waiting to meet the one to start a family, hires barista Anna (Harrison) to be his surrogate. As the pregnancy progresses, the single friends spend more and more time together, from medical appointments to sleepovers. In a typical romantic comedy they’d realize they’re in love, raise the child together and live happily ever after.

Spoiler alert: That doesn’t happen – but their relationship grows more complicated as they come to rely on one another.

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The concept of platonic love comes directly from director Nikole Beckwith’s experiences with deep friendship.

“Some of my most formative loves have been platonic loves of my life and where I’ve felt very seen and very understood and celebrated, and I celebrate that person,” she says.

Ed Helms and Patti Harrison star in "Together Together." (Photo: Tiffany Roohani / Bleecker Street)

Harrison empathizes with those experiences. “Some of my best friendships feel romantic in the level of openness and love that you feel for the person, the passion that you can feel for friends. The movie plays with expectations. It’s commentary a little bit on the genre itself,” she says.

Helms says he hadn’t read a script like this one before. “It’s not a story that we see out there, a middle-age straight guy wanting to be a parent through surrogacy,” he says. “That alone felt special.”

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‘We’ve been brainwashed’ with romance

We can thank fairy tales for our societal obsession with romance, Beckwith says. “We’ve been brainwashed from a very early age to think of that as paramount.”

A relationship not continuing on over the horizon is seen as a failed relationship, Beckwith adds – a notion “Together Together” chips away at. 

A deep friendship “still affected you,” she says. “It held an important place in your life for however long that was and shaped you in those ways.” Ergo, the platonic rom-com.

The platonic rom-com formula can be more commonly found in movies where female friendships are tested amid growing pains like “Life Partners,” “Frances Ha” and “Bridesmaids.” Typically that story involves a significant other coming into the picture who challenges the relationship; in the case of “Together Together,” that’s replaced with the imminent arrival of a baby.

Annie (Kristen Wiig) in “Bridesmaids” feels out of place at Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) engagement party – when the real issue at hand is that their friendship is about to change. “Together Together” features a similar scene where Anna doesn’t fit in at Matt’s baby shower.

“That’s part of what makes this movie so special is that it subverts some of those tropes and expectations in a very gentle and compassionate way,” Helms says.

Anna (Patti Harrison) is Matt's (Ed Helms) surrogate in "Together Together." (Photo: Tiffany Roohani / Bleecker Street)

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‘It shouldn’t be a big deal’

The film also subverts expectations without ever acknowledging it onscreen: Anna is a cisgender female character and Harrison is transgender – an atypical casting choice in Hollywood, where transgender actors are typically relegated to transgender roles, if they’re cast at all.

“It’s a space that has been predominantly almost all white and straight and cis,” Harrison says.

Identity wasn’t something Beckwith focused on in the casting process – she says she cast the best person for the role. 

“(Harrison) is a gifted actress, a riveting performer, an incredible person and as soon as I saw her, that was my Anna,” Beckwith says.

Harrison  calls this role  a turning point this movie was for her career. “Being trans and having that marker on me, that box on me, has been frustrating because you get pigeonholed, and you get minimized into only being that thing,” she says. “This movie was a great experience in getting to step outside of that. And it shouldn’t be a big deal.”

She hopes Hollywood opens up opportunities for transgender people going forward. “I hope more trans people get to play roles where they get to not have to think about being trans or the character can be trans and it’s not shoehorned into the script,” she says.

Interesting: Hollywood’s casting dilemma: Should straight, cisgender actors play LGBTQ characters?

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