The ripples of the global pandemic have gripped and shaken Cinema, and our viewing of it, in more ways than one. As the pandemic finds representation in Cinema, the stories become more specific about the trials of living in one. The anxieties and horrors that come with such representation require a certain amount of nuance. In Alone Together, actress Katie Holmes’ sophomore directorial and screenwriting feature, in which she also stars as a food critic June, says, ‘ The only things that matter are essential workers, and I’m not essential.” This line sets the tone of how seriously Alone Together takes the pandemic and how seriously one must take the film.
Intended to depict the anxieties of a pandemic-era romance, Alone Together keeps things surprisingly low-key and free-flowing. The results are not always good. It is March 2020, and the pandemic has hit New York. Masks are made mandatory, although our ignorant protagonist neither wears a mask nor does she get a sanitizer. Reason? There were no sanitizers left since people had hoarded them by that time. Good. She wants to take some time off with her boyfriend John (Derek Luke) in a rental house, but of course, things don’t go as planned. John decides to stay back last minute, and June leaves all by herself.
Cue for us to be sympathetic for her troubles when she discovers that she didn’t even know the rental room was booked by someone else (read white guy) and not her. Now her phone is dead. The spare keys are missing too. Cue for our male protagonist (read white guy) to demonstrate kindness and offer her the place. Good. It turns out they were double booked. The guy here is Charlie (Jim Sturgess), and you have the plot filled with sensual tension juxtaposed with some sweet existential crises of sweet people. The problem is not simply with how the film melts into a romantic perspective of isolation in the setting of a pandemic, but how it consistently fails to achieve any truthfulness in itself.
Everything in Alone Together feels predictable- the characters are half-written, and the progression of events is painfully obvious. It’s neither a sweet love story nor a faithful pandemic-fueled character study. Initially, both of them are annoyed with other. June makes a fool of herself in the early scenes while opening a wine bottle, and then she accidentally catches John butt-naked in the shower. Sweet. (read eye-rolls) Gradually both of them let their guard down and spend time getting to know each other, drinking wine, cycling around, and painting. ( read – The pandemic is forgotten.) Honestly, the scenes that involve them just indulging in an activity are still better. The moment Holmes tries to dig into some deep realization of the world around her through June and John’s awkward conversations, it goes downhill. Their exchanges simply lack depth and go nowhere. “Sometimes I think,” she says, “like what the fuck!” That’s the closest I have been able to relate to a sentence in Alone Together.
Holmes fills June with charm and selflessness that serves little for a character whose actions annoy most of the time. When John returns (of course he does), June’s excuse of-the world’s all crumbling, so I need time- induces nothing less than an annoyance when a while ago she was all wide-eyed at the wonders of getting to spend time by herself and not care. Poor old John gets his mum on a video call to meet a quarantine friend and share his ex-girlfriend’s expertise on cheating on him. Sturgess tries hard to fill John with a sense of genuineness, but there’s no scope given to him. Derek Luke appears and disappears, and that’s all you need to know about his character.
Alone Together ends predictably, and by the time it does, predictable sounds like an understatement. There is little to be serious about this rosy, seemingly self-aware portrait of a pandemic romance. If the future holds less mercy, I would return to this needlessly stretched feature and recollect how the pandemic exposed the fracture exposed the privileged and the lack of it.