Enticed by impulses for transgressive storytelling, Emma Forrest’s debut feature Untogether is the epitome of pretentious, cookie-cutter filmmaking that fails to further the very clichés that it latches onto.
From the outset, the film is more concerned with the makeshift than it is with soul searching and exploring what truly fuels our most deep-rooted desires. The emphasis Forrest places on the notion of an expiry date – on both relationships and success – only allows her to scratch the surface with her characters’ wants and needs. For instance, a shirtless and successful doctor turned one-time-author Nick (Jamie Doran) and one-hit-wonder author Andrea (Jemima Kirke), find themselves consenting to a no-strings attached ‘fling-air’ (fling affair). Just when the conditions of this relationship begin to be tested, Forrest pulls her audience back from the thick of things and shifts to the next best thing.
That next best thing arrives in the form of Tara (Lola Kirke) and Martin’s (Ben Mendelsohn) ever estranged relationship. Fortunately, with this subplot, Forrest devises a provisional paradigm for fulfilment and contentment in the form of a willingness to set oneself free from oneself – even if that means betraying those closest to you. Martin loves Tara, but the feelings are not mutual as Tara finds herself growing increasingly fond of a Civil Rights rabbi, David (Billy Crystal).
What is perhaps most intriguing about this strand is the absence of and longing for, a paternal presence. Both Andrea and Tara have inherited their deceased father’s home (who was a musician) and it is Tara (more or less) who has found herself edging closer to much older men. Martin provides affection while David is the voice of reason, and she is trapped in this concoction of settling for what she knows best or taking a risk. The consequences of the latter are that, throughout the film, Tara and the likes of Andrea, Nick and Martin constantly find themselves retreating to a place of comfort. Nick becomes embroiled in rehab, but finds himself circling back to his unsustainable connection with Andrea, and Tara grows increasingly receptive to the simplicity of being with Martin. Most of the film relies on these fortuitous encounters to support the premise, but their immediacy and failure to breach the sub-par threshold leave a hole of emptiness in their wake.
Much to Forrest’s credit, she has a way of bringing her actors to their most vulnerable states – particularly Mendelsohn (whom she was actually married to and ironically, estranged from as well). It’s clear that for Mendelsohn, the character of Martin is almost a reflection of his own lived experience with Forrest, and he channels that experience to bring about a heartfelt performance that is a welcomed step away from the villains he usually plays. Crystal is also fitting for his role and it feels like a character he should have played years ago.
Quite frankly, it’s hard to believe the film’s lack of a distinguished personality as it revels in the overplayed and romanticised idea that no matter how crippling and troublesome our lives may be, they can just as easily be rectified. Though there isn’t enough reason to care for what happens to these characters, they do find a way of being emotionally available just when you need them to – no matter how ubiquitous the circumstances they come from may be.