By Alex McPherson

Directors Stephen Daldry’s and Justin Martin’s new film set during the current COVID-19 pandemic, “Together,” is an intense, powerfully acted, and morally troubling drama.

The film centers around an unnamed couple in the UK struggling to maintain their sanity in pandemic lockdown. “He” (James McAvoy) is a self-satisfied, conservative Alpha Male who manages a boutique consulting firm. “She” (Sharon Horgan) is a left-leaning charity worker with an acid tongue of her own. They live a middle class existence, while neglecting to give their introverted son, Artie (Samuel Logan), much parental attention.

From the moment viewers lay eyes on them, He and She bicker incessantly, piling on the insults in semi-teasing awfulness. The two opposites are stuck together in dire times, developing some semblance of compassion toward each other and the world at large as they endure the COVID-19 emergency.

Daldry and Martin’s film, with a screenplay by Dennis Kelly, is timely to a fault — using current events that have impacted us all as a background for an irritatingly predictable narrative. Despite this, however, “Together” is still a captivating viewing experience, largely thanks to its theatrical presentation and the dynamism of the two leads.

Indeed, “Together” feels highly reminiscent of a stage play, as He and She talk directly to the camera from the first scene onwards, vying for the center of viewers’ attention. This cinematic technique successfully puts viewers in the uncomfortable position of feeling like they’re right in the thick of things with these two flawed “adults,” forced to view their chaotic conversations without a possible exit. As interactions oscillate between being mean-spirited and hopeful, smirk-inducing and devastating, “Together” is relentless during the full 90-minute runtime.

Horgan and McAvoy have tangible chemistry, and their fast-paced dialogue conveys a mostly believable relationship. They’re able to handle comedic lines effortlessly — including an embarrassing exchange about their sex life — while also nailing the more dramatic beats as the months drag on. McAvoy, likably hyper as ever, showcases the insecurities that bely his character’s cynicism. Horgan shines as someone firm in her “good” beliefs who retains her own selfish tendencies. Combined with the film’s fourth-wall-breaking presentation, He and She seem like real people viewers might know. They both dislike and, deep down, care for one another.

Still, “Together” can only stay afloat on acting talent for so long. The story, good intentions notwithstanding, plays upon real-world traumas to somewhat generic effect. A particular subplot involving She’s elderly mother is emotionally devastating but foreseeable from the get-go. It concludes with an impassioned speech from Horgan about the meaning of the word “exponential” regarding viral infection and the government’s fumbling of crucial facts surrounding the illness. In retrospect, it all seems pretty obvious for anyone who isn’t a devoted consumer of misinformation.

“Together” is packed with scenes designed to elicit tears from viewers, but it doesn’t add anything particularly new to the discussion surrounding the global health crisis, nor does it illuminate a perspective that needs to be illuminated. The protagonists are so privileged, all things considered, and their respective character arcs surrounding basic human decency and not taking loved ones for granted aren’t exactly revelatory. If films like “Together” set during COVID times become more common, filmmakers run the risk of using it as a gimmick to grab viewers’ attention, instead of exploring it from new, insightful angles. This film, unfortunately, falls into the former category.

For all its attempts at relevance and its first-rate performances, “Together” doesn’t sit particularly well amid our current climate, where there’s no end in sight regarding the virus’ evolving mutations. It brings together broad social commentary and standard plotting to end up with something above average, but markedly inessential.

“Together” is a 2021 romantic comedy-drama directed by Stephen Daldry and co-directed by Justin Martin and starring James McAvoy, Sharon Horgan and Samuel Logan. Rated R for language throughout, the movie runs 1 hour, 31 minutes. In theaters Aug. 27 and on demand and digital Sept. 14. Alex’s Grade: B-

By Lynn Venhaus
With humor and heart, “Military Wives” spotlights the unsung heroines during wartime – the spouses who keep it together at home.

While their partners are away serving in Afghanistan, a group of British women on the home front form a choir and quickly find themselves at the center of a media sensation and global movement. They were the first of 75 military wives’ choirs across the UK and overseas.

Based on a true story and inspired by a 2011 BBC reality television series, this film tells about a band of misfit women who form a choir. First, it’s for something to do on a military base while their husband have a tour of duty in Afghanistan. But then it takes on bigger meaning.

Directed by Peter Cattaneo, who is responsible for the crowd-pleaser “The Full Monty” two decades ago, it is purely formula. But that’s OK. In movies like this, you must highlight certain people and their conflicts – inner turmoil and out-in-the-open challenges. It’s predictable but in spite of itself, one still enjoys this journey.

The women will bond, laugh, tell intimate stories and flourish through music. This helps ease their stress and fears for their loved ones in combat. While much of it is fun, it is not all light – and that’s understandable.

Leading the cast is Kristin Scott Thomas as a colonel’s uptight wife, so Kate is in charge but she’s not likable – controlled and judgmental. She is also dealing with enormous grief.

A sergeant’s wife, who couldn’t be more different, is supposed to be given more to do, but Lisa and Kate clash. Lisa is played by Sharon Horgan, of Amazon Prime’s hilarious “Catastrophe.” She and Kate must work through several issues before they can work in harmony.

The women are asked to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London for “A Day of Remembrance.” It will be televised. Their stage fright ramps up.

There is nothing easy about their journey, but it’s realistic, as written by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard, and their bonds feel authentic.

The music score is interesting, too, particularly with the pop song choices from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

A pleasant diversion, “Military Wives” lovingly tells their poignant stories at a time we are open to hear them.

“Military Wives” is a comedy-drama directed by Peter Cattaneo and starring, Kristen Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan. It is rated PG-13 for some strong language and sexual references. Run time is: 1 hr. 52 min. Lynn’s Grade: B. This movie was released on Hulu.

A version of this review appeared in the Webster-Kirkwood Times.