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Will there someday be a festival, or master’s thesis, or even, perhaps in 2072, an evening of Turner Classic Movies channel programming, devoted to the films of the COVID lockdown? Will we think of the “Malcolm & Marie,” “Together,” “Locked Down,” “Stop and Go,” and, now Katie Holmes’ “Alone Together” as a genre worth re-visiting? While there are moments in some of these films that do their best to transcend the restrictions of a COVID-safe production and make some thoughtful comment on the circumstances, or even tell a story with authentic human resonance, I suspect that only Bo Burnham’s one-man “Inside” may continue to hold a place in the cultural landscape.
Holmes wrote, directed, and stars in “Alone Together,” set in the earliest days of COVID-19. After a brief opening montage introduces us to June (Holmes) and John (Holmes' “Pieces of April” co-star Derek Luke) as they laugh and toast their way through a happy Manhattan life, the date is revealed to be March 15. The world might be collapsing, and June is trying to get to an Airbnb rental in upstate New York, only to find that the trains are cancelled, so she has to take a Lyft.
She arrives to discover first, that the place has been double booked and a scruffy but cute guy named Charlie (Jim Sturgess) is already living there, and second, that John is not coming because he has decided he has to be with his parents.
June and Charlie decide they can both stay there, and they quickly get past the “where do you work” and “what is your favorite book” questions to eating together, karaoke, and various other bonding activities and personal revelations about families and relationships.
Holmes has been in enough movies to have a strong sense of traditional structure, or maybe it's more accurate to say a traditional sense of strong, three-act structure. While that can mean a familiarity and consistency with expectations many audience members find appealing, here it just means that the film is overly predictable. When a character asks, “How did you find me?” another responds, “This is where you said you would go.” That exchange is superfluous because we also heard what was said and knew where the character would be.
The film does not trust its audience enough to draw our own conclusions about the people and their circumstances. We learn early on that Charlie’s job is—metaphor alert—“restorer,” not just of old motorcycle engines but, he tells June, pretty much everything. As she's trying to get out of the city, June hears a homeless guy with COVID yelling that the world is ending and archival audio from then-Governor Andrew Cuomo talking about unprecedented measures to keep people safe. On top of all that, still in the first part of the film, the Lyft driver tells her that “people think they have all the time in the world, keep putting things off.”
“I’m a vegan. I’m trying to be,” June tells Charlie when he offers her a Big Mac. Yet, she is a restaurant critic. So that is an odd choice to say the least, without further explanation except that it's something John wanted to do. It is a shame to waste the great chemistry Holmes and Luke had in "Pieces of April" by relegating him to such a thinly sketched role. The script assumes more sympathy for the characters than it earns.
Luke and the other actors do their best, especially Zosia Mamet as June’s friend and Melissa Leo as Charlie’s mother, but the dialogue never creates vivid, specific, consistent characters. In one scene, Charlie and his mother finally see each other in person but cannot touch. For that brief moment Leo and Sturgess transcend the script to create a sense of connection that goes beyond words, and we glimpse what another few drafts of this script might have been.
Now playing in theaters and available on digital platforms on July 29th.