New from Every Movie Has a Lesson by Don Shanahan: MOVIE REVIEW: Alone Together

Image courtesy of Vertical Entertainment

ALONE TOGETHER– 3 STARS

Establishing a very pleasing attitude in the opening credits hopping through Manhattan, writer-director Katie Holmes uses a willowy cover of the Great American Songbook staple “Blue Moon.” When applied to the restrictive hurdles created by the film’s early pandemic setting, its familiar lyrics go from cordial and delicate to expressive and meaningful. If you know the song, it starts here:

Blue moon

You saw me standing alone

Without a dream in my heart

Without a love of my own

As the ballad continues, prayers are answered, a passionate prospect arrives, and adoring love wins over our lonely and lost singer. It converts the “You saw me standing alone” verse into “Now I’m no longer alone.” Our voice has found the only comforting arms they will ever need. 

For Alone Together, “Blue Moon” is a lovely tone setter, one that reappears as a connecting point of poignancy later in the film. Lo and behold, to learn in the closing credits that Holmes’ own daughter Suri Cruise sang this chosen cover and that the film is dedicated to her adds to the specialness. Applying a yearning honesty to real-world uncertainty, Alone Together creates as capable and as heartwarming of a romantic renewal as the well-chosen old standard proclaims with thankfulness. 

The celebrated actress calls her own number as June, a magazine food critic in a somewhat stagnant relationship with John (Derek Luke, in his first feature film in seven years after TV success on 13 Reason Why) while living on the Upper West Side. Little bits of diegetic news snippets in the background present the onset of the COVID-19 lockdown that began on the Ides of March in 2020. Flexing her well-heeled means, June has booked an Airbnb getaway for her and John to escape the city and wait out the pandemic. In the collapse of services, she frustratingly meets subway and train stations with complete cancellations.

When a Lyft driver finally does get June out to the idyllic country home she selected, the place is double-booked by the owner. A restoration specialist named Charlie, played by Jim Sturgess of Across the Universe and Cloud Atlas, has already arrived. After the exhausted and entitled June simmers down, Charlie takes pity on her and the state she’s in with no means of transportation. They agree to share the place until things can get sorted out. Sure enough, this conundrum becomes a smudged Meet Cute for two strangers that find they have more commonalities than they realize as they seek to pass the time and stay safe. As the mandated isolation increases the barriers around them, the boundaries between them melt with empathy and affection.

LESSON #1: WHAT DID YOU NEED DURING THE EARLY PANDEMIC?— Halfway through 2022 and deep into new understandings since COVID-19 first spread, we have reached enough calloused history to look back on the early pandemic and all of its unknowns with decent reflection. Alone Together does have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, yet frankly portrays the confusion of what we expected to need, and what we didn’t, from the extended period of sheltering. While the masses hoarded hand sanitizer and toilet paper, other folks, including June and Charlie here, sought different material items of comfort and personal measures of stress-reducing safety. We can see now the wins and losses of pragmatism versus superficiality from that initial panic, and the film plays into that kindly without leveling finger-wagging blame.

LESSON #2: WHO NEEDED YOU DURING THE PANDEMIC?— There’s no “perhaps” here. We entirely know now what we didn’t know then that the biggest pandemic essentials were the loved ones we couldn’t pack in a bag, buy multiples of, or keep with us in our home. We needed our people and, hopefully, there were people who needed us in return. Once the viral dangers increased to the point where families and friends were kept apart to the point of missing births and funerals, the emotional pain became more harmful than the disease’s debilitating symptoms. The ache of those needs will be the lasting memory from this time period, and is the right emotional core for Alone Together.

As we come to learn, John is worried about his aging and high-risk parents. Instead of joining June up north, he retreats to live with them. Likewise, the only family June has left is a grandfather in a senior living facility riddled with late stage Alzheimer’s enough to recognize her anymore. Charlie, with nerves of his own, finds himself out of the city to get away from a recent fizzled relationship and a shuttered business. His one confidante is his chipper and worried mother, played by Oscar winner Melissa Leo, who is also kept from him across the divides of FaceTime and Zoom. 

LESSON #3: SHARED COMPANIONSHIP BREAKS SHARED LONELINESS– On the simple side, Charlie and June bond over McDonald’s, Wild Turkey, bike rides, and in-home karaoke. Yet, it takes the Lyft driver before they even meet to remind June that “good stuff is never easy.” Filling more running time than the fun in Alone Together is the not-so-small talk shared by Charlie and June in this rental property. When the two open up, it’s not all about superfluous details. Their respective heavy challenges, big losses, and realizations of shortened windows of time come forward. The supportive ways they respond to each other prove shared quality time makes all the difference.

Jim Sturgess employs a breathy ease as Charlie that can soften tension better than any bottle of wine or shoulder massage in the world. As a screenplay creation to be a foil across from June’s initially privileged neuroses, his patient and bearded worldliness probably comes across as too perfect. Combine his attractive appeal with the ageless, disarming smile of Katie Holmes herself, the soft piano score from Graham Reynolds (Where’d You Go, Bernadette), and the serene transition shots captured by cinematographer Martim Vian (Young Hearts) and that feeling of mushy convenience might grow.  

However, Alone Together is no vacuous two-week fling of a love triangle. The thick and relatable flaws given to these characters by Holmes remove some of the gloss and shave down the easiness. Past and current tragedies for these two potential lovers weigh heavily where their togetherness is not automatic for permanence or even healed confidence. For every moment where bliss found in isolation and the gratefulness of good health are momentarily glorified, Holmes’ film reminds us that “if it hurts, it hurts” in that suffering doesn’t always have social or class divides. With that approach, both the central characters and Alone Together earn their fighting chances at finding love amid these faults.

In directing her second feature following 2016’s tepidly-received All We Had, Katie Holmes has shown visible improvement. As a writer, she has struck a very steady and appealing balance between the character-reinforcing pain present and the desire to celebrate the fragile possibilities of love derailed by our pandemic lockdown. The premise of Alone Together may suggest serendipity that is too easy. If this was Nancy Meyers, the threads of this movie would all end in laughs. Instead, the dramatic difficulties fleshed out Holmes and her cast prove otherwise. The direction and storytelling grace of Holmes’ results are very praiseworthy, especially during this continuing pandemic.

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LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#1055)

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