Untogether (United States, 2019)February 07, 2019
Untogether, the directorial debut of novelist/essayist Emma Forrest, is a slice-of-life look at the lives of two sisters. Although the film boasts some nuggets of truth, there’s a lot of artifice in the narrative. There’s also an imbalance where the characters are concerned. The older sibling, Andrea (Jemima Kirke), is a fascinatingly damaged individual, fresh out of rehab and trying to stay clean. The younger Tara (Jemima’s real-life sister, Lola) is a considerably less interesting person. Her story arc is riddled with contrivances that drag down the entire production. Watching Untogether, it’s easy to wish Forrest had elected to focus exclusively on Andrea and leave Tara as a background supporting character.
Both Andrea and Tara have “daddy issues.” Their now-deceased father has left them with emotional baggage. Andrea is the more damaged of the sisters; her father’s legacy is etched into her psyche. When she was younger, she joined him in doing drugs in order to be close to him – the experience left her hooked. Andrea enjoyed a “healthier” relationship and, as a result, took his death hard. She has filled the hole by dating a man twice her age – the retired rocker Martin (Ben Mendelsohn, Forrest’s ex-husband), who dreams of getting the band back together and giving Tara a taste of his glory days (which were passed before she was born). Meanwhile, Andrea engages in a one-night stand with fellow author Nick (Jamie Dornan), a flavor-of-the-moment due to the success of his tragic semi-autobiography. Andrea is conflicted where Nick is concerned – she doesn’t have much respect for him as an author but is drawn to him nevertheless and their “one time only” encounter is repeated, blossoming into an affair. Despite the promises and protestations of the participants that they are meeting purely for physical pleasure, passion prevents matters from progressing placidly.
Untogether’s ensemble cast is peppered with familiar names (a testimony to the high regard in which the writer/director is held), although the best performance is given by Jemima Kirke, who nails the simmering resentment of a past-her-prime elite author while nursing her inner pain and searching for the revelation that will turn everything around. (It comes by way of a too-obvious visual metaphor.) Lola Kirke is less emotive and affecting as Tara; the character is bland and the performance doesn’t inject much energy. As Andrea’s love interest, Jamie Dornan may be trying to distance himself from Fifty Shades of Grey but I have to admit he was more arresting as that series’ steel-eyed stalker. Meanwhile, Ben Mendelsohn expresses the soulful weariness of someone who can’t quite let go of the past. In a secondary role, Billy Crystal gives his best performance in a long time as the rabbi whose activist past captures Tara’s attention. Jennifer Grey and Alice Eve are on hand for name recognition; they don’t have real roles.
Untogether wants to be an intimate, deeply personal exploration of how two adult women cope with the debris left behind by their father’s passing and move forward now that he no longer walks the planet. Unfortunately, too much of the story feels like the product of Nick’s pen – a flimsy fabrication. Although individual scenes work, tugging at the heartstrings or opening up an individual for deeper examination, the screenwriter’s guiding hand is too obviously present and becomes an impediment to any appreciation of the characters’ evolutions.
Untogether (United States, 2019)
Cast: Jemima Kirke, Lola Kirke, Jamie Dornan, Ben Mendelsohn, Billy Crystal, Jennifer Grey, Alice Eve, Scott Caan
Screenplay: Emma Forrest
Cinematography: Autumn Durald
Music: Robin Foster
U.S. Distributor: Freestyle Digital Media