Katie Holmes Romanticizes COVID-19 in Alone Together

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Katie Holmes Romanticizes COVID-19 in <i>Alone Together</i>

Katie Holmes’ sophomore directorial effort opens with a nostalgia-soaked montage of Manhattan skylines, backdropped by a soothing, jazzy cover of “Blue Moon.” A clear nod to the iconic opening of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, the first scene of Alone Together takes us on a breezy journey through quiet city streets bathed in golden-hour light, parks where people joyfully congregate and—are my eyes failing me, or is that title card actually written in Comic Sans?

This scene is an apt metaphor for Alone Together as a whole: A pleasant story, but something about it consistently feels a little…off. The film follows June (Holmes), a wealthy Upper West Sider food critic. Life is going peachy for her and her loving boyfriend John (Derek Luke)—that is, until a (Comic Sans) title card pops up that reads “March 15, 2020.” We all know what that means.

So June does what the lucky few did during that time: Grabs a two-and-a-half-hour Lyft from Manhattan to Hudson to camp out in a beautiful cottage that looks like a West Elm showroom. But her paradise is quickly interrupted by a handsome stranger, Charlie (Jim Sturgess), who happened to book the Airbnb at the same time as her. I bet you can’t guess where this is going!

The following 90 minutes are rampant with sexual tension, self-discovery and endless quarantinis. And while Alone Together is undeniably a sweet love story, something about it feels a little…wrong. This is partially because much of the plot revolves around June’s pandemic-launched identity crisis: She doesn’t know if she wants to be with John anymore, and she feels bad for not having followed her dreams and just written a novel already. Of course, a lot of us had these kinds of realizations during the early stages of the pandemic. Still, when June helplessly utters the words “The only thing that matters are essential workers, and I’m not essential,” one can’t help but wish that Holmes’ script would acknowledge that, on the sliding scale of March 2020 suffering, wealthy people sheltering in beautiful chateaus are pretty low.

But more glaring than the awkwardness of Alone Together’s rosy perspective on the pandemic, conveyed seductively by cinematographer Martim Vian in glossy landscape shots that look straight out of a James Ivory film, is the glaring truth that it’s still not time for a COVID-19 movie. The hand sanitizer, the poorly aged Andrew Cuomo voiceovers and the blissful ignorance of “this will all be over in two weeks” all feels incredibly dated. Who knows? Perhaps one day we’ll look back on films like this with enough distance to not shudder at the sight of a mask. But being asked to relive such a horrendous time in history will likely continue to be a pretty tall order for the foreseeable future.

All of this would be much more forgivable if the love story was just a little bit more compelling. But from the get go, June and Charlie’s relationship lacks substance. Their small talk goes nowhere, and the most common ground they are able to find is a mutual love of McDonald’s Big Macs. Their attempts at flirting often miss the mark, too: If someone told me I was actually really beautiful I probably wouldn’t be particularly flattered.

And sadly, the characters aren’t written with much more dimension than the rest of the script. The viewer will inevitably roll their eyes at June’s quasi-quirky wine-mom antics, and roll their eyes even harder at Charlie, who is definitely not like the other boys. (He likes to fix things with his hands, crack open a cold one, and you can bet he recently had his heart broken, too). On the bright side, Holmes and Sturgess salvage some of this with convincing performances. Holmes brings her usual charisma to the table, and plays June as a charmingly hopeless woman in a refreshingly unself-conscious manner. Sturgess steals the show, though—a criminally underappreciated actor who brings nuance to each of his roles, he plays Charlie with an understated blend of pain and wisdom.

Despite its flaws, Alone Together turns out to be quite poignant, and gets around to conveying a truly optimistic message. It’s a film about following your heart and your dreams, and daring to be yourself no matter what people think of you. As corny as that sounds, in the end, it truly is convincing. If only it took more of a nuanced route to get there—and maybe left the Purell out of it.

Director: Katie Holmes
Writer: Katie Holmes
Stars: Katie Holmes, Jim Sturgess, Derek Luke, Melissa Leo, Zosia Mamet
Release Date: July 22, 2022

Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.