Writer, director and star Katie Holmes’ Alone Together is a Covid-era romantic drama that hints at meaningful commentary, but ultimately plays out pretty predictably.
It was only a matter of time before the pandemic firmly etched itself into media outside the 24-hour news cycle, having disrupted normality so thoroughly for over two years. While it’s not the first to use it as a plot device, Alone Together utilises the stay-at-home mandates of early 2020 as the crux of its meet-cute and romantic narrative, consistently reminding its audience of just how confusing, strange and unprecedented this period of time was. And yet not really doing anything with that reminder.
June (Katie Holmes) is a New York food critic, freshly unemployed and keen to spend what she assumes will be a couple weeks of isolation at a remote Airbnb with her boyfriend John (Derek Luke). But when she arrives, she finds that not only has John decided to stay at home and look after his parents, but the house has been double booked and Charlie (Jim Sturgess), a recently single handy-man, is already there. A hectic day’s travel means June is exhausted, and Charlie somewhat reluctantly agrees to let her stay alongside him. But as the pandemic shows no signs of easing off, the pair find themselves slowly adjusting to this new normal, learning more about what it is they want out of life, and navigating the intimacy that blooms from such strange beginnings.
As a romantic drama, Alone Together isn’t particularly ground-breaking, and the progression of June and Charlie’s relationship from strangers to something more is pretty predictable. But there’s an elephant in the room here that, contextually, sets the film apart from many of its predecessors and offers a unique blend of heightened emotion and intense routine upheaval. Which makes it all the more frustrating when the film seems to bend over backwards to avoid addressing it fully and falls into the trappings of unoriginality. Snippets of news coverage pepper the film, and our leads navigate the difficulties of this new ‘normal’ whilst making face coverings, going on socially distanced bike rides and eating what groceries they can find.
But just how odd, bizarre, strange, weird (insert any other words meaning ‘wtf’ here) the situation they find themselves in is never really discussed, and instead it’s the usual complexities of failed/failing relationships and the debate of ‘what am I doing with my life’ that forms the basis of June and Charlie’s burgeoning connection, rather than the unique (and frankly more interesting) nature of their meeting.
Perhaps writer/director/producer/star Katie Holmes was keen to make the film as a way of exploring the ordinary in extraordinary times, of portraying blossoming joy in a time of great sorrow, but it proved too big a task to convey the effect 2020 had on, well, everything and it simply became an easy way to bring two characters together. In any case, there’s a feeling of something missing, of a dissatisfaction with a film that hints at being something slightly more meaningful than perhaps the finished product is.
All that aside, the film itself is… fine. There’s a hesitancy to Holmes’ direction, making it feel like a down the middle romantic drama that doesn’t really emphasise any flare she might have behind the camera. With its opening montage, the film doesn’t particularly spend a lot of time on the set up, and is instead keen to get to the meat of the film, which is the time being spent with its two leads. The chemistry between Homles and Sturgess is there but not particularly electric, and Luke seems to struggle to hit some of the emotional beats required by his character. There are some clunky plot moments and not-so-natural conversations, but the performances are solid enough and there’s definitely some potential in Holmes’ style as a writer and director.
Alone Together is a pleasant, fairly middling romantic drama with charm and likeable enough characters, even if it does squander some of its potential. It doesn’t offer too many surprises – unlike the year of its setting – and doesn’t completely win you over by the emotional conclusion, but it isn’t offensive or too dragging. Let’s hope for a brighter future for Holmes behind the camera, as this didn’t particularly set anything alight.
Alone Together is now available to watch on digital and on demand.