The single-mother-by-choice movie is pretty much its own mini-genre by now; a "quirky" spot on the rom-com continuum long occupied by various Hollywood Jennifers (Aniston, Lopez, perchance a Garner). Though singledom, like pregnancy, always seems to be a temporary state in those stories — the right guy waiting just on the other side of postpartum.

Together Together is about that guy, or at least someone like him: Matt (Ed Helms), a fortysomething app designer with crinkly eyes and a sunny San Francisco apartment. Except he's the one ready to have a child without a partner, and how writer-director Nikole Beckwith chooses to get him there is one of the unexpected highlights of this year's Sundance Film Festival so far, where it premiered; a wry low-key dramedy that lands with surprising sweetness.

Sundance Film Festival 2021
Credit: Tiffany Roohani/Bleecker Street

A lot of that rests on the actress who plays his surrogate, Patti Harrison: She's Anna, a 26-year-old barista with Audrey Hepburn bangs and the vaguely disappointed mien of a Gen-Z Daria. For a generous fee she's willing to carry Matt's baby, though she has no plans to let it have any effect on her life otherwise. She'll date till she's showing and keep everyone else on a need-to-know basis — the way she couldn't in high school, when she gave up a son for adoption and ended up estranged from her own family.

Casual pregnancy is not Matt's vibe. He wants to buy Anna comfort clogs and feed her folic acid; he has a small conniption over her one-night stand. Beckwith's script hits some of those notes in ways that tip too schematically cute, but Helms and Harrison consistently rake it back, prodding gently at the bruised and calloused places in their lonely characters. (Alt comedy-world star Harrison, an alum of shows like Shrill and Search Party, is also trans — though the only reason that might ever play into this movie's narrative is to make certain things resonate even more impressively offscreen, like the several firsts her inclusion here so casually achieves.)

There are also fun, sharp turns by the likes of Tig Notaro as a carefully nonjudgmental counselor and Los Espookys' Julio Torres as Anna's glitter-dusted friend and coworker, for whom opinions are actually a full-time (albeit unpaid) job. Veep's Sufe Bradshaw is great too as a blasé lab technician, though Nora Dunn and PEN15's great Anna Konkle end up stuck with kooky, mostly one-note cameos.

As Harrison's Anna struggles to maintain the boundaries that will let her walk away from the life growing inside of her, Matt pushes back, determined to connect and form some kind of provisional family out of their little unit. The bravest thing the movie does, maybe, is let them play that out without clean lines or tidy endings; a Together-ness not nearly as simple or straightforward as romance, but not any less about love. Grade: B+

Related content: