Patti Harrison Will Break Your Heart

Photo: Tiffany Roohani/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Patti Harrison is a writer, actor, and comedian who is probably best known for what has (accurately) been called her “upsettingly funny” sense of humor.

Harrison, who is transgender, came to fame in 2017, when her Tonight Show bit on Donald Trump’s transgender military ban went viral. But her actual comedy tends to be a lot less political and more absurd: A typical bit might see her performing a dark original song about dying for Dua Lipa, making inventive fart jokes, or reviewing animals.

All of this is to say that I was surprised, and pleasantly so, to see Harrison make her dramatic debut with Together Together, and not be cast as the bitchy, sardonic assistant-type character she usually plays in shows like Hulu’s Shrill. Instead, she’s Anna: a lonely 20-something whose emotional baggage is hiding somewhere beneath her perfect New Girl bangs.

The film follows Anna as she becomes the surrogate to a soon-to-be single father, Matt, played with unusual sincerity by Ed Helms. As Anna’s pregnancy progresses, so does their mostly platonic, but deeply affectionate, relationship. They’re a strange duo and so is the way they love each other: Matt frets over her, buying her pregnancy tea and hideous clogs, and Anna teaches him how to use a tampon. They name the unborn child the gender-neutral “Lamp,” and go to birthing classes together. She moves in, ostensibly for the baby, but they really just want to just hang out and watch Friends. 

At first Anna is withdrawn—we don’t get much in the way of backstory outside of knowing she’s been pregnant once before and is estranged from her family. Her reticence may have been tiresome in a less talented actor, but Harrison’s contained, empathetic performance is what makes Together Together so effective: She keeps us curious, not in a coy way, but with a joke or a look or a very pointed opinion. It doesn’t take long for us to start cheering Matt on as he tries to get to know her, because the truth is we want to too.

There is virtually no kissing in this movie, and, blessedly, it never evolves into a story about an older man finding love with a 20-year-old. (Harrison’s monologue about Woody Allen movies halfway through the film dispels any suspicions that it might turn into that.) And while Together Together isn’t really romantic, it’s a film about love — the different ways people find it and what forms it can take.

Still, its greatest gift is Patti Harrison, who shows us what she can do (which, it turns out, is everything). Lest you think the film is completely humorless, know that Anna still has Harrison’s characteristic wit, but be aware going into it that the same woman who once held up a snake and said, “This is one dumb, fat-ass spaghetti,” is capable of breaking your heart and making you sob your eyes out.

Patti Harrison Will Break Your Heart