It’s not the easiest film to pitch: a romantic comedy without the romance, a couple having a baby together when they have no interest of being a couple. That’s not to say Nikole Beckwith’s Together Together is particularly esoteric. Its premise is simple enough to follow, perfectly suited for a more conventional romantic comedy: Ed Helms, playing a man in his mid-forties, decides he wants to be a single father and recruits a younger surrogate, played by Patti Harrison, to carry his first child.
When the film premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, few could have decried it had it taken such a straightforward approach. Beckwith’s film, however, never intended to fit that mold. Together Together quickly stood out from the 2021 Sundance slate as a film that was quietly confident with itself: it hits the notes it wants when it wants, without alienating the audience in the process. It has all the comforts of a more traditional comedy without being particularly concerned with following any of the genre’s established conventions. The leads have great chemistry together–but the film never feels preoccupied to have that spark lead to anything. The end result is charming, a self-assured comedy with the potential for a wide appeal that led to a national theatrical release this April.
Boxoffice Pro spoke with writer/director Nikole Beckwith about her process of putting the film together ahead of the film’s national roll-out.
This is an interesting premise, in that this is a comedy focusing on a pretty intense and intimate relationship that is in no way sexual or romantic. That’s a pretty hard tone to hit, how did you end up settling on it through a story like this?
I was drawn to this story the same way I’m drawn to anything, which is just curiosity. I never start off wanting to write something that I know. I always want to write something as though I’m an audience member, watching it as it unfolds. I was very curious what what would happen between two strangers in such an intimate and emotional circumstance. As I was writing it, I uncovered this unrecognized appetite I had for a different kind of love story. For a story representative of a man’s strive to be a parent and biological clock, and a woman who isn’t ruled by her biological clock or eclipsed by becoming pregnant–who is very, like self aware of her boundaries and what she’s capable of. I guess I hadn’t I hadn’t realized ahead of going into the story that we have a deficit of those types of narratives.
What sort of research or background work did you do while putting the script together?
I interviewed a surrogate and she was very helpful, speaking about food blogs and scheduling and the types of managerial, office-like stuff that goes into it. The surrogate I spoke to is married and has her own children, so that is obviously a very different experience. I also looked at a lot of surrogacy websites, but I always a light touch in that arena because I never want to be taking somebody’s actual experience and mash it up into my own fictional world. I like to keep a healthy boundary between me and anybody else’s feelings.
I did a lot of back story research for Anna. What her teen teenage pregnancy experience was and why it was the way it was based where she was from. Geographically, where’s the closest Planned Parenthood? How many signatures do you need to get and all those detials. Also, the adoption process for adopting her biological child. So I did a lot of research there but that was just for Patti [Harrison] to have going in, none of it was in the script.
It may not have been in the script, but you can see it in the performances: they’re not characters that simply react to whatever happens to them, they feel more fleshed out as you get to know them. That leads to the other challenge in putting this film together, getting the right cast. You needed to find two actors that had a spark, but not too much of one to make it work.
I’m very lucky, the casting is incredible. A lot of my writing, maybe all of my writing for the screen, is very internal…so casting is very important. Ed [Helms] came first, he was my dream person, you very literally shoot for the stars and send [the script] to them and await their rejection. Then I got this call from Anthony Brandonisio, my producing partner, telling me Ed wants to meet. Using ‘The Office’ as an example, he’s playing this hilarious character making hilarious unexpected choices. When I’m watching it, I’m so attuned to that core, that raw vulnerable, emotional core of a character that wants to be loved and accepted by his father, a character that wants proof that his potential is leading to something that he wants to belong to, he wants to find his way in the world. All that stuff is really clear, it’s like the North Star. It’s hard to bring that raw, vulnerable, beautiful humanity into something like that. I was very excited at the prospect of working with Ed and flipping the front seat and the backseat: what happens if we let that that deep emotional core drive? We just met for had coffee and he was wonderful. We just clicked and had such a nice conversation about the script. He was very trusting and I’m really grateful for his trust in me as a filmmaker and collaborator, despite the fact that he is a thousand million times more experienced than I am.
After Ed, I found Patti [Harrison]. I saw the Tonight Show clip that I feel was a lot of people’s first introduction to Patti, their first impression. Patti has this beautiful magnetism. You want to lean in, you want to watch her, but she also has kind of a saltiness that’s not too close. And that’s just a beautiful balance that she that she cultivates really well. It’s something that you can’t really direct someone to do. You either have that magic balance in you or you don’t, and [her chatacter] really needs that balance through the film. We sent her the script, she liked it, and we met and fell in love and really connected. Then I set up Ed and Patti on like a work date, But then I didn’t leave, I just sat at the table, to observe and see what the chemistry is. And it was great. The whole time I was sitting there, I was like, I can’t believe this is technically my job, this is the most fun I’ve ever had. It was just very natural among the three of us and the two of them together. Similar to the journey their characters have in the film, making a movie is a very intense, very finite process that is very intimate between strangers. We all experienced that together moving through the film, the other chemistry and energy together is just beautiful.
Together Together opens in theaters on April 23, 2021.