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A handsome relationship drama about four fantastic-looking people whose interior lives are something of a wreck, Emma Forrest’s Untogether has its share of life/art parallels beyond the fact that the sisters at its core are played by real-life siblings Lola and Jemima Kirke. That excellent bit of casting, along with that of co-stars Ben Mendelsohn (the director’s ex-husband) and Jamie Dornan, should make the debut feature considerably more attractive to indie distributors, who will also respond to its smart, uningratiating screenplay and polished look.
The Kirkes play Andrea (Jemima) and Tara (Lola), daughters of a deceased musician who evidently left them both a Los Angeles house and left Tara some daddy issues as well: She has lived here for a while with a much older man (Mendelsohn’s Martin) who was himself a two-hit wonder musician long ago. Now Andrea has come to stay with the couple, a year into recovery from heroin addiction and many years past the publication of her only novel.
Andrea falls into a relationship with the much more successful Nick (Dornan), a physician who struck gold with a memoir about an affair he had while doing volunteer work in the Gaza Strip. Declaring from the start that he’s emotionally unavailable, Nick enjoys having Andrea on call, watching her dance for him in vintage lingerie (the script is oddly attentive to her retro wardrobe) and, in an echo of Dornan’s most famous role, sometimes tying her up with silk stockings. Though their personality defects aren’t identical, the two are enough alike to fall into something like doomed love.
Meanwhile, though Martin is more emotionally mature than one expects a midlife rocker to be, Tara needs something beyond their relationship. A Jew who’s never participated in religion, she discovers a congregation led by a rabbi (Billy Crystal’s David) who radiates moral integrity; she begins spending free time at his synagogue, being carried away by the music. Kirke is persuasive as a woman so ready for deeper meaning in life that she may latch onto the first big idea she encounters.
An early cross-cutting sequence hints at Forrest’s intent to mix things up for these rootless characters: Tara lingers after hours with David, listening to his earnest talk of social justice and activism; Andrea takes Martin to an insufferable book party after he casually points out some of the things wrong with her life. The film hops back and forth between the conversations, showing the sisters attempting to connect with moral or professional aspirations that their love lives may be hindering.
The story’s least engaging character, Nick, hovers outside the moral orbit of the others, but Forrest has plans for him. A controversy awaits that will make his interactions with Andrea more meaningful, and whether they point toward a healthy relationship or not, the script pulls its elements together pleasingly in the end.
Forrest started off as a music journalist, and occasionally seems to go out of her way to shoehorn some personal favorites into the plot. It’s eyebrow-raising, though of course not impossible, that 30-ish Andrea quotes the Manic Street Preachers (a band whose fans lean considerably older) and plays late-period Siouxsie and the Banshees on the bus; when the film needs to reveal the presumably decades-old song that made Martin a star, it appropriates an excellent 2007 composition by Austin’s Okkervil River that is probably too meta to fit the character or his period.
But the film’s emotional intelligence gets it past the occasional false note, and the strength of its central performances keeps us engaged even when the characters themselves might not deserve our sympathy. “Untogether” here isn’t a reference to relationship status as much a verdict on whether our protagonists have their acts together. Though they’re far from settled when the credits roll, they’re at least more pleasant to be around.
Production company: Redwire Pictures
Cast: Jemima Kirke, Lola Kirke, Ben Mendelsohn, Jamie Dornan, Billy Crystal, Alice Eve, Jennifer Grey
Director-Screenwriter: Emma Forrest
Producers: Scott LaStaiti, Luke Daniels, Brandon Hogan
Director of photography: Autumn Durald
Production designers: Sara Beckum Jamieson
Costume designer: Kameron Lennox
Editor: Sophie Corra
Composer: Robin Foster
Casting directors: Joey Paul Jensen, Niner Parikh
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
Sales: Christian De Gallegos, Ambassador Film Group
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