Any movie that starts off with Jamie Dornan shirtless in bed asking Jemima Kirke if he can finish on her face is, it’s safe to say, seeking to provoke. But that’s about as racy or intimate as Untogether gets, opting instead to deliver a hodgepodge of relationship movie clichés occasionally redeemed by a game cast. Even the promisingly weird title feels like a betrayal. It refers to a character briefly losing control of her life, as in: “This is the most untogether you’ve been in a year.” If only the film itself were willing to be a little more untogether, to lose control occasionally and show us something new and unpredictable.
Kirke and her real-life sister Lola portray two siblings living together in Los Angeles. Jemima plays Andrea, a once-promising and recently clean novelist whose drug problem has derailed her career; Lola is Tara, a massage therapist starting to get impatient with her former-rock star boyfriend, Martin (Ben Mendelsohn), a two-hit wonder who now paints houses for a living. The stable, obliging Tara is seeking more out of life, it seems, when into her office walks a charming rabbi named David (Billy Crystal), who leads a hippie-ish congregation focused on social justice and who charms her with stories about his time in the Civil Rights movement, not to mention supposedly wry observations about the modern world. (Sample sermon quote: “Can Siri Google your soul?”) He’s married with children, but Tara is clearly smitten. Never mind the fact that the likable Martin, for all his washed-up washed-upness, dotes on her, and might even be restarting his music career.
Meanwhile, Andrea has started sorta-kinda-maybe seeing hunky doctor-memoirist Nick (Dornan), whose recent book about his tragic experiences working in Gaza is the latest publishing sensation. And when he’s not off being a literary superstar, Nick is at the hospital saving people’s lives. Although the two of them certainly do have a lot of sex, with role-playing and even a brief moment of bondage, Andrea doesn’t seem able to commit: She is somehow both in love with, and jealous of, this apparently perfect man.
Sadly, these standard-issue relationship difficulties don’t get played with in any interesting way in writer-director Emma Forrest’s script. A late-movie revelation about Nick is obvious right from the start, and his interactions with Andrea don’t develop into anything particularly meaningful; much of the time, it feels like we’re watching montages instead of scenes. And the film hits various story notes pretty much on cue — a betrayal here, a disclosure there; a triumphant concert here, a car crash there — which adds to the overall feeling of it all being manufactured.
That’s all quite unfortunate, because the cast does excellent work. Even as she’s saddled them with an uninspiring, paint-by-numbers multi-character indie dramedy, Forrest has clearly tapped something genuine in her performers. Lola Kirke manages to strike a nice balance between sweet and embarrassing in her pursuit of rabbi David: A scene where she dances along a little too intensely to the music at one of his services has a pleasantly low-key, cringe-inducing quality. Jemima Kirke adds an engaging layer of pissiness to Andrea’s supposed lostness, as if she’s annoyed by her own inability to move forward in life. Meanwhile, Dornan continues his streak of giving likable performances in mostly forgettable films, and it’s always nice to see Mendelsohn playing someone who is not a total schlub, or villain. Most movies downplay this actor’s charisma and physicality; Untogether wisely takes full advantage of it. If only the movie knew what to do with itself.