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Together (2001)
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by Andrew Howe

"A sixties lifestyle in seventies Sweden"
4 stars

When I grow weary of the pressures of city life, I like to entertain myself with visions of moving to a commune. Extended leisure time, free love, whiling the nights away with red wine and passionate conversation - for anyone chained to the rat race it’s an attractive proposition, but these visions of a hassle-free existence live in a land where the rules of basic human nature fail to apply. Cramming ten people into a low-rent house is a recipe for disaster, as good intentions inevitably crumble beneath the weight of conflicting ideologies, the lure of life’s little luxuries and garden-variety jealousy.

This is exactly what happens in Together, the second feature from Swedish writer/director Lukas Moodysson. The year is 1975, and while the rest of the world is doing its best to consign the hippie movement to the dustbin of history a loose collection of hard-core nature-lovers are getting back to basics on a suburban commune. When the film opens their atmosphere of mutual respect has already begun to disintegrate – the mild-mannered Göran (Gustaf Hammarsten) is grappling with his girlfriend’s attraction for another housemate, while Anna (Jessica Liedberg) and Lasse (Ola Norell) spend their time engaging in petty sniping after a recent break-up. Matters are complicated by the arrival of Göran’s sister Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) and her two children, who abandon their comfortable existence to escape the alcoholic Rolf (Michael Nyqvist).

If your head’s already spinning from trying to catalogue the characters, I regret to inform you that another five commune members and sundry hangers-on will be vying for your attention. It’s a crowded roster, and even at 106 minutes Moodysson has difficulty providing all of them with sufficient room to move. As a result the film devotes a significant portion of the running time to Göran, Elisabeth and Rolf, with the remaining participants disappearing until they’re called upon for their five minutes of fame. However, Moodysson is adept at communicating a considerable amount of information without resorting to lengthy exposition – he makes every scene count, fleshing out the characters with well-chosen dialogue, and by the halfway point you’ll have an investment in the fate of each and every one of them (except for Elisabeth’s son, who’s an annoying little sod).

Göran is the nominal hero - easy to love but difficult to admire, his status as the resident doormat sees him overshadowed by his comparatively vibrant companions for much of the film. However, his bewildered reaction to his girlfriend’s sexual escapades is harrowing, reminding us that our emotional makeup is inherently opposed to the concept of open relationships, and his dawning realisation that nice guys really do finish last provides a simultaneously uplifting and depressing moment of truth.

Rolf and Elisabeth’s relationship starts out as a standard tale of violence and repentance, but over time Nyqvist’s affinity for the role conspires to elicit a certain amount of sympathy for his character’s plight. He’s not an evil man, just an average Joe who’s lost his way courtesy of the demon drink, and his relationship with the similarly dispossessed Birger (Sten Ljunggren) is a highlight. Their situation speaks to our fears of growing old alone and unloved, and we’re never entirely certain whether that’s Rolf’s sole reason for embarking on the comeback trail with his erstwhile partner. This plot thread provides the film with the required weight, belying attempts by distributors to market the film as a comedy.

There are certainly humorous interludes, including a hugely enjoyable confrontation between Lasse and a homosexual housemate that exudes the kind of matter-of-fact sexuality you rarely see in American films. However, I wouldn’t lumber it with the “warm-blanket” label - the final scene echoes the conclusions to Rushmore and Looking for Alibrandi, exiting on an upbeat note without offering any assurances of a better tomorrow, but it is, at its core, a chronicle of the difficulties involved in fostering loving relationships. The commune is a microcosm of our society, encompassing the best and worst the human race has to offer, and the film’s supposed status as a feel-good flick originates from its ability to remind us that we’re never alone in our failings.

Of course, any film with a soundtrack that features ABBA and a version of Love Hurts by Nazareth shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and I’d hate to give potential viewers the impression that they’re in for another long dark night of the soul. It’s a film you can watch on whatever level your mood dictates, secure in the knowledge that you’ll be spending time with involving characters, accomplished performers and a narrative packed with humour and insight. It’ll have you thinking twice about chucking the job and catching the first bus to Nimbin, but when it’s over the daily grind might just seem like a reasonable alternative.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5509&reviewer=193
originally posted: 06/13/02 22:00:41
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User Comments

11/09/09 Leshaye W. Wonderful film! 4 stars
5/26/03 mr. Pink A warm endearing film by one of the best new directors. 5 stars
8/28/02 viking more ABBA please !!! 5 stars
3/01/02 Unagiboy The kids were the grounded ones. How can you hate ABBA? 4 stars
10/24/01 Heather Worth a look, it creates a few laughs at all the political/sexual situations 4 stars
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  24-Aug-2001 (R)
  DVD: 10-Feb-2004



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