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‘Together Together’: Likable Patti Harrison breaks through as a true movie star

Opposite Ed Helms, she’s funny and endearing as a surrogate mom in a comedy that’s a joy to experience.

Daddy wannabe Matt (Ed Helms) hires Anna (Patti Harrison) to carry his child as a surrogate mother in “Together Together.”
Bleecker Street

We need to talk about Patti Harrison’s performance in the whip-smart and heartwarming friend-com “Together Together” right off the bat because it is such sly and subtle and empathetic work and it put a smile on my face throughout — and it has me excited about the many projects that will benefit from starring Harrison in the future.

This is why I love my job after all these years. I settle in to watch a character-driven comedy/drama starring the always reliable Ed Helms and I’m moderately optimistic — but from the moment Harrison appears onscreen in a set-the-table scene with Helms and deftly knocks it out of the park, I know I’m in for something special.

Writer-director Nikole Beckwith takes the familiar tale of a single woman of a certain age deciding to have a child on her own and spins it to tell the story of a fortysomething San Francisco man named Matt (Ed Helms) whose parental clock is ticking and has decided he’s not going to wait to be in a relationship to have a child. The amiable and sincere and almost annoyingly nice Matt has hired the deadpan, dryly funny and somewhat detached Anna (Patti Harrison), who is about 20 years his junior, to be the surrogate mother to his child — but this isn’t gonna be one of those deals where they meet a few times and then reconvene when it’s delivery time, oh no. Matt wants to bond with Anna because he wants to get to know the person who is bringing his child into this world, and also because he wants to micro-manage her life, to the point where he insists she keep an online blog detailing her meals and he buys her a pair of stunningly ugly clogs to wear because they’re supposedly the most comfortable shoes in all the land.

In the hands of 1970s Woody Allen (whose films are taken to task by Anna in one of the many expertly crafted bits of seemingly offhand conversational dialogue in the film), “Together Together” might have gone down a certain path, but without giving too much away, let’s just say this film is too knowing to be predictable. Matt and Anna overcome their initial social awkwardness and the fact they would seem to have very little in common to become unlikely friends, and we learn their respective back stories in an organic, authentic way. The dialogue is peppered with funny one-liners that occasionally sound a little too spot-on (we can almost see the dialogue leaping off the page), but Helms and Harrison have slipped so seamlessly into their characters and are so good at making every line reading seem real and spontaneous, we stay involved.

Ed Helms has been playing variations on the sometimes overbearing but basically goodhearted guy since “The Office,” and he’s in his comfort zone here (and in the new Peacock series “The Rutherfords”). As for Patti Harrison: it wouldn’t be accurate to say “a star is born” because Harrison has accumulated a following through her stand-up work, and through such shows as “Shrill” and “Search Party.” But this is the co-lead in a feature film, and Harrison is funny, endearing, lovely and likable from the moment she appears onscreen. What a joy it is to experience this film, and this breakout performance.