Editor’s note: This review was originally published at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. Vertical Entertainment releases the film in theaters on Friday, July 22.
Don’t let this film fool you: It’s not great, but it is a cozy reminder of rom-coms past.
“Alone Together,” while set in 2020 amid the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, infuses the genre with the comfort of a matching cashmere bralette and cardigan sweater from the late 2010s, per the trend writer-director-producer-star Katie Holmes made famous then.
It’s easy to get lost in the nostalgic parts of “Alone Together,” like the effortlessly picturesque Anthropologie home furnishings and stylish wardrobes of a “woman on the go in the Big Apple.” It’s even easier to get lost in Jim Sturgess and Holmes’ simple yet charming banter. But don’t get too dreamy-eyed for the rom-coms of days past: the film, which premiered at Tribeca 2022, has a jarring reminder that the world is a heartbreaking place, full of death, betrayal, and traumatic loss. So goes our cute and quirky escape.
“Alone Together” centers on June (Holmes), a restaurant critic who is suddenly out of a job and on a relationship hiatus with her boyfriend John (Derek Luke, with whom Holmes is set to work again on another film, “Rare Objects”) starting March 15, 2020 when Manhattan is at a standstill and COVID-19 leads to a city-wide exodus. June travels upstate to Hudson, NY to camp out at an Airbnb which John booked; John, however, opts to stay behind in New York City to care for his parents. Upon arriving at the rental, June is confronted by Charlie (Jim Sturgess), who apparently double-booked the same French chateau-inspired cottage.
The opening of Holmes’ sophomore directorial effort “Alone Together” makes for a stomach-gripping drag: A cover of “Blue Moon” plays as a Lifetime-type font rolls out the credits. (And yes, we judge films based on font.) But seeing Holmes onscreen again on her own terms has a “you go, girl” sense of empowerment. Sure, this could just be our projection that “Alone Together” quietly debuts the same summer as “Top Gun: Maverick” and the “M:I 7” trailer, but Holmes seems happiest writing, directing, and producing, while also starring as the lead. The whole “world’s ending” backdrop is where “Alone Together” fumbles, and it’s quite a fumble indeed.
June starts crying when she sees a deer on the drive to Hudson, and Charlie’s career is rooted in “fixing things,” such as June’s hardened heart. Charlie is devoted to having Indiana-born career woman June take a pause and return to her beer-drinking, Big Mac-eating authentic self. Ugh, June’s boyfriend John was pressuring her to become a vegan, and who really sticks to their diet goals during a pandemic?!
The small classic rom-com details like a large and extensively furnished home only having one bathroom and one bedroom make for an already claustrophobic pandemic premise feel even closer: June and Charlie aren’t necessarily worried about getting COVID from one another — although Charlie at one point adorably sews homemade masks for both him and June — but rather the concern is that their “we may die tomorrow anyway” attitude will lead to a romance rooted in both of them taking advantage of each other being in vulnerable states.
June resorts to first banging a bottle of white wine against a wall to uncork it (…OK…) and then, inevitably, banging Charlie himself. We could get used to this. But nope, here is yet another voiceover by former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo talking about PPE when June is only really focused on BDE. And then comes all the death.
June’s Alzheimer’s-addled grandfather dies in a nursing home (cue up some more Cuomo soundbites, perhaps?), and she reveals to Charlie that her grandpa raised her after her parents died in a murder-suicide. Yes, this rom-com has a murder-suicide reference. The last time a domestic violence murder-suicide was paired with this much hooking up was in Season 1 of “Temptation Island” (it’s on Peacock, watch it ASAP.) And while June opening up to Charlie could have been an emotional moment, less than 12 hours later she’s back biking with him through the forest and musing over the romanticism of Instagram-friendly motels. Everything is magnified until it’s not. Everything matters until nothing does.
Charlie, meanwhile, bonds with June over the loss of a parent. His father passed away years ago, and his mother (Melissa Leo) raised him and his brother by herself. If there was a manic pixie dream man, Charlie would be it. He dresses impeccably in Brooklyn thrift store-salvaged GQ-ready ensembles, pairing flannel pullovers with sherpa jackets featuring obscure karate dojo logos. Zosia Mamet occupies the voice of reason BFF role as per her “Flight Attendant” and “Girls” arcs, and seems supportive of June’s McDonald’s dates with Charlie. From picnics in the front yard to at-home karaoke and making love on a pink velvet couch with monochromatic floral prints, June and Charlie’s romance seems like the best thing to come out of the start of the pandemic….
….until John crashes the Airbnb to retrieve his girlfriend and tell her that while she was falling in love with another man, his dad died of COVID. You know, the dad that June was annoyed John stayed behind in Manhattan for. Well, guess he was right. It’s only when June and John are together do we see the true “Alone” aspect; June cooks alone, bikes alone, even watches movies by herself. John only chimes in to tell her that she should be thankful she’s free of her “dead end job” and doubts her abilities to write a novel.
But John isn’t a bad guy: Who is the bad guy? Does there have to be one? June wasn’t there for John in his grief, but then again, neither was he for hers. The film sidesteps guilt or emotional tolls; the rush of the pandemic shutdowns are used only for YOLO hook-ups that apparently bloom into true love sponsored by endless bottles of white wine. June sheds her self-conscious attitude about her makeup-less appearance and ticking biological clock when she’s with Charlie, and their awkward ease with one another feels real.
When Charlie warns that if June gets back with John, she’ll be either “dating yourself or losing yourself,” it feels like Holmes is giving a PSA for the audience. “Alone Together” has the momentum of a reclamation of sorts, but the plot tries to do too much, say too much, when it really should just be about love. Who cares if it’s formulaic or not? In the middle of this pandemic, maybe being something we can rely on is a good thing.
“Alone Together” premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. Vertical Entertainment will release the film in theaters on Friday, July 22.