As a sleep-deprived parent of two boys under 5 years old, I recognize a kindred spirit when I see one. Lethargy is the biggest giveaway. Taking the simplest route to finish a goal, not because it’s convenient but because you have no other recourse. That same lethargy plagues Emma Forrest’s relationship dramedy Untogether, available on VOD starting Feb. 8. After an interesting opening, the familiar fatigue settles in as the movie spends the next 90 minutes making minimal gains.
DIRECTOR: Emma Forrest
Two sisters, Andrea and Tara, are stuck in relationships going nowhere. Both women must do some soul-searching to figure out what they want, even if that means losing everything.
Untogether spins its wheels for a long time searching for a way forward. That’s partly by design. For her debut as writer-director, Forrest cooks up a story about two couples struggling to connect because they don’t know what they want or how to get it. The film revolves around two sisters, Andrea and Tara, and their lame-duck boyfriends. Real-life sisters Jemima and Lola Kirke play Andrea and Tara, so it’s not surprising that they have the most chemistry and give the two best performances of any pair in the film. Time spent away from them feels like a waste.
Alas, the men have to drag the women and the film down. Tara’s decades-older boyfriend, Martin (Ben Mendelsohn), used to have a band that he wants to get back together. Martin is a thin sketch of a character, and not even Mendelsohn can do anything to salvage him. His only purpose is to weigh down Andrea. Mercifully, Martin serves his purpose and doesn’t appear onscreen for large chunks of the film. Jamie Dornan fares slightly better as Nick, an alcoholic writer and doctor. Andrea and Nick are caught up in a passionless affair. There appears to be no good reason for them to hang around each other as much as they do. The script calls for it, but nothing about the characters or performances makes this relationship compelling.
The biggest problem with Untogether is that it’s capital-B Boring. It feels like circular reasoning for me to knock a movie about people not clicking for the people not clicking. But it goes deeper than that. Forrest’s script is undercooked, and its epiphanies land with “well duh” effectiveness. It takes characters a long time to make realizations that the audience will make in the first 10 minutes. That would be fine, but the detours the couples take aren’t funny, romantic, or interesting. They’re just there, taking up the audience’s time and wasting the actors’ talents.
Untogether has a few bright moments. The film opens with a funny joke juxtaposing unsatisfying oral sex against a cat vigorously licking itself. It promises a sense of humor and cleverness that the rest of the film can’t match. Jemima, as fans of Girls know, has a natural edge that makes Tara’s struggles real. Lola, best known for Mistress America and Mozart in the Jungle, has a lighter touch. This helps sell Andrea’s story, particularly her friendship with a rabbi, played by Billy Crystal. This is the best storyline in the film. Lola and Crystal play off each other well, and you can see the mutual benefits of their friendship.
Another early highlight of the film is a brief exchange after the cat-interrupted fellatio. Andrea storms out of the room as Martin asks her to come back, saying, “We’ve never had unsuccessful sex.” Without breaking stride, Andrea says, “Yes, we have.” Martin stops and looks genuinely surprised. It perfectly encapsulates everything Untogether wants to be about. It’s a shame there aren’t more moments like it.
Untogether, like its characters, can’t generate enough momentum to accomplish anything useful. The film says everything it needs to say in its first 10 minutes but doesn’t realize it. It’s a relationship drama that works better when it focuses on Andrea and Tara’s personal growth. The film has a few strong moments that suggest good things for Forrest’s future films, but for now, Untogether needs more rest and more focus.