Alone Together is but the latest reminder that Covid-inspired relationship tales reached their expiration date long ago.
Relationship dramas revolving around the Covid pandemic and the early days of quarantine have proven to be, by and large, one of the worst things to afflict the film medium since Kevin Feige decided that artistic integrity was a disposable commodity. So many of these projects, including the likes of 2020’s Together and The End of Us, revolve around abhorrent couples who are forced to endure one another’s obnoxious faults — and, by extension, holding audience members hostage to their narcissistic and self-centered hostilities. Occasionally, we get a sweet-natured and hopeful romance, with most of the action taking place over Zoom, but even these tend to end on a bittersweet note. The pandemic has produced exactly one good film in this particular subgenre, Natalie Morales’ charming Language Lessons, while the rest resemble something like the dire new romantic comedy Alone Together, written, directed by, and starring Dawson’s Creek alum and former Mrs. Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes. Whatever novelty exists in the film comes solely from the narrative wrinkle that its two potential lovebirds are sharing a physical space together, the result of a double-booked Airbnb on the outskirts of New York City.
March 15, 2020. June (Holmes) is an uptight food critic whose debonair boyfriend John (Derek Luke) has reserved the two of them a place to stay outside of the city in hopes of escaping the dangers of the looming Covid pandemic. Canceling at the last minute due to a sudden need to stay with his ailing parents, John insists that June travel without him and vacation at the gorgeous abode in an attempt to relax and stay safe. What June instead discovers is that her potential safe haven is already occupied by Charlie (Jim Sturgess), a handsome 30-something who was promised the place by a close friend. Without a car and much in the way of motivation, June agrees to stay with this complete stranger, who is decent enough to give her the lone bedroom while he takes the couch. What follows is a story as old as Tiger King, as June and Charlie bond over alcohol and late-night trips to McDonald’s, discovering they might just be made for each other. A late-film visit by John confirms that he’s a raging asshole who belittles June’s hopes and dreams at every turn, so no lost love there.
Alone Together dares to ask the brave question: what if this pandemic was, like, the greatest thing that ever happened? June and Charlie are a pair of navel-gazing, Woody Allen-wannabe characters who sit around discussing such profound topics as existence, mortality, and the true meaning of happiness, but never in a way that might actually be construed as deep. Indeed, these two are in such a hermetic bubble of bliss that it’s almost like Covid doesn’t exist, the setup an excuse to have awesome bike rides, roast marshmallows indoors, and fuck like rabbits. God forbid the film acknowledge that its characters’ actions are likely the direct result of a highly stressful and borderline apocalyptic situation in which the fate of humanity seems/seemed doomed. When June and Charlie venture back to the real world, discover it sucks, and then go back to their fairy tale world, it seems like a damning critique, but Holmes paints it as the most romantic gesture on the planet, two delusional souls afraid to face the harsh truths of reality. The movie certainly doesn’t strive for authenticity in all facets, but it’s asking a lot of the audience to make us feel for the sudden death of two periphery characters when its protagonists act like a pair of spoiled lovebirds, literally making out under the golden arches of Mickey D’s. Holmes’ direction is as bland as the script, while she and Sturgess share little in the way of chemistry. Holmes the actress, meanwhile, has never been the most natural performer, often coming across as distant and aloof, and frankly, watching her approximate human joy here can feel like watching an alien trying to mimic Earth-bound behavior. Alone Together is ultimately yet another example of a standard rom-com using Covid as a novelty, when in truth it’s quite possibly the least novel thing viewers are likely to encounter nearly three years into a global pandemic. The sooner filmmakers figure this out, the better.
Published as part of Before We Vanish — July 2022.