Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy in 'Together'
| Credit: Peter Mountain/Bleecker Street

Necessity is the mother of a movie like Together — a quirky COVID-era invention that essentially plays out like the film-length version of a bottle episode. Director Stephen Daldry (The Crown, The Hours, Billy Elliott) strips away nearly everything but the dialogue in his literal kitchen-sink drama (in theaters today), starring James McAvoy and Catastrophe's Sharon Horgan as a London couple whose lockdown breakdown unfolds almost entirely inside their shared living space.

He's a smug conservative type whose 87-word description of his job pretty much boils down to "computer stuff"; she's more of a social liberal who does admirable work with refugees. They don't have names, officially, but they do have a 10-year-old son called Artie (Samuel Logan) — a shy, peculiar kid whose social oddities might cross over to something more clinical. It's the earliest days of the coronavirus in the U.K., and they're doing their best to adjust to a life trapped within the walls of their (to be fair, extremely bright and spacious) townhouse.

It doesn't help that they can't stand each other: "I hate your face," he tells her happily; she often thinks of him, she says, like a colorectal cancer. Love may have left the building a long time ago, but close proximity is not making their hearts grow fonder. Until maybe it is: When one of the pair experiences a devastating personal loss, the walls between them begin to come down, and so (offstage) do their pants.

That they speak — and shout, and expound — all of this directly into the camera lens necessarily makes the whole thing feel theatrical in a way that may be an acquired taste; all the revisited dramas and relentless talk-talk-talk needed to keep the narrative boat not just afloat but moving forward can be wearing. The movie begins approximately when lockdown does, and the passage of time is marked mostly by date stamps, a recounting of COVID death totals, and the evolution of McAvoy's hair, which wends its way to a jaunty man bun by the first year's end.

But even within the stagy confines of the movie's Scenes From a Marriage setup, Horgan and McAvoy manage to tease out the more subtle and enduring bits in their characters' unravelings. And the real grief and fury they're both forced to process in the second half pushes the circular comic bickering of its beginning toward something sadder and more profound. (Though rarely have so many vegetables been called to play such dramatic supporting roles: entire plot points revolve around eggplants, asparagus, and possibly poisonous mushrooms). Even at a brisk 90 minutes, the film feels just long enough — the final scenes' promise of a finished pandemic maybe the only happy ending we can't share. Grade: B

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