Ed Helms and Patti Harrison star in “Together Together,” a comedy about a man and the surrogate he hires to have a baby. (Courtesy Bleecker Street)

Ed Helms and Patti Harrison star in “Together Together,” a comedy about a man and the surrogate he hires to have a baby. (Courtesy Bleecker Street)

‘Together Together’ an uneven look at unconventionally conceived familes

‘Downstream to Kinshasa’ illustrates effects of Congo’s Six Day War

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A straight single man who wants to be a dad hires a gestational surrogate to have his baby in “Together Together.” Written and directed by Nikole Beckwith (“Stockholm, Pennsylvania”), the film, opening Friday in theaters, is an assisted-reproduction comedy and platonic love story that is mildly entertaining but needs to be deeper, sharper, and more compelling.

Unlike Michael McCullers’ more broadly comic “Baby Mama” and Jeremy Hersh’s ethically challenging “The Surrogate,” Beckwith’s movie is a quirky indie with oddball protagonists and a lightly humorous tone.

Matt (Ed Helms), an unattached 40-something app developer successful enough to afford a roomy house in San Francisco, has decided to have a child and raise the kid himself. After an awkward interview, he hires 26-year-old fellow loner Anna (Patti Harrison) as his gestational surrogate.

Anna had a baby when she was a teenager and has since been struggling to get back on track. Currently working at a coffeehouse (a job as cliched as Matt’s), she plans to use the money she’s receiving from the surrogate arrangement to go to college.

The comedy stems largely from the protagonists’ contrasting temperaments — Matt exudes enthusiasm; Anna’s demeanor is deadpan — and from Matt’s attempts to micromanage Anna’s pregnancy in areas ranging from diet to Anna’s sex life. Anna, who wants to remain emotionally detached from Matt and the baby she’s carrying, is not pleased when Matt appears at her workplace with offerings like a pair of clogs he deems pregnancy-friendly.

But while she asks Matt to respect boundaries, Anna, whose only friend appears to be fellow barista Jules (Julio Torres), finds herself drawn to him as a fellow solitary soul. A wonderful friendship forms.

Beckwith’s screenplay contains some choice material, like a monologue in which Matt explains why he wants a child. Helms brings seriousness as well as comedy to his somewhat nerdy character, and Harrison, in the Anna role, with her droll humor and considerable but in-check emotion, is stellar. The fact that Harrison is trans is irrelevant to all of this but is worthy of mention as a way of commending Beckwith for casting a trans actress in a cisgender leading role in a mainstream movie.

Unfortunately, the ideas are superior to the presentation of them in this film, whose most important ingredient, the Matt-Anna relationship, too often plays out blandly and flatly.

Meaningful connection is upstaged by contrived surrogacy material featuring quirky minor characters — doulas, new-agey childbirth instructors, neurotic family members — played by a host of comedy notables, like Tig Notaro, Anna Konkle, Fred Melamed, and Nora Dunn, who deserve better.

Beckwith also misses the opportunity to explore what surrogates think and feel about the service they provide. How justified is Matt in his expectations of Anna, whose every meal item and sexual partner he believes are his business?

As for the birth of Anna’s baby, it provides this uneven movie with a moving and satisfying ending, which movingly embraces unconventionally conceived families.

REVIEW

Together Together

★★1/2

Starring: Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, Julio Torres, Tig Notaro

Written and directed by: Nikole Beckwith

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

“Downstream to Kinshasa” follows a group of victims of the Six Day War in the Democratic Republic of Congo who seek reparations from the government. (Courtesy Icarus Films)

“Downstream to Kinshasa” follows a group of victims of the Six Day War in the Democratic Republic of Congo who seek reparations from the government. (Courtesy Icarus Films)

In June 2000, in the world’s lesser-known Six Day War, forces from Uganda and Rwanda killed and wounded thousands of residents of the city of Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A world court later ruled that Uganda had committed war crimes. The stimulating documentary “Downstream to Kinhasa,” written and directed by Dieudo Hamadi, follows a group of Kisangani survivors with war-caused disabilities as, 20 years after the disaster, they take an arduous trip to demand compensation for the massacre’s effect on their lives.

Hamadi’s subjects belong to an association formed in Kisangani to preserve the memory of the Six Day War in their amnesia-prone Central African country. The group holds commemorative events annually.

In 2018, fed up with the failure of the powers-that-be to award them compensation owed to them, and believing government leaders must officially acknowledge the war horror, about a dozen survivors, many wearing ill-fitting prostheses, board a barge and sail on the Congo River to Congo’s capital, Kinshasa. En route, they converse, cook, eat, dance, strategize and shelter themselves, under colorful tarpaulins, from a storm.

In Kinshasa, not all goes as they’ve hoped, but their determination to make their voices heard keeps their mood, and the film’s tone, vital.

Hamadi intersperses the Kinshasa journey with scenes of theatrical performances in which Kisangani residents address their situation. This material disrupts the story and increases its disjointed quality.

But this doc is stirringly alive as Hamadi captures his subjects’ sense of purpose and collective sprit.

It also merits note as a look at disability, and it draws attention to both the Six Day War and the similarly near-forgotten Second Congo War (1998-2003), the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.

Hamadi’s cellphone cinematography, meanwhile, allows us to experience the river voyage almost physically.

“Downstream to Kinshasa” opens in the Roxie Theater’s virtual theater Friday.

REVIEW

Downstream to Kinshasa

★★★

Written and directed by: Dieudo Hamadi

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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