Alone Together (R)
The title is what two strangers (Jim Sturgess and Katie Holmes, the latter also writing and directing) find themselves when they are double booked for the same Airbnb property during the first wave of the COVID 19 pandemic. From this contrived meet-cute comes an even more contrived, literally overnight, love connection that never convinces despite a nice rapport between Holmes and Sturgess. More convincing, and far more compelling, is the subplot between Holmes and existing boyfriend Derek Luke, who are led to re-examine and re-evaluate their seemingly functional relationship in the wake of pandemic lockdown stresses and tragedies. Holmes would have had a more interesting, truthful, respectful, and relevant COVID-era love story had that thread been the focus. Instead, she serves up reheated romantic dramedy tropes with the pandemic serving as mere window dressing.
From the first frame, the title is apt, for just like all of director Andrew Dosunmu's previous films, it is stunning to look at. What the film does not live up to is the promise it has on paper, being the pairing of the undervalued Dosunmu and award-winning writer Lena Waithe. The film gets its title from its main character (Gracie Marie Bradley), a young Black female singer in the early '80s whose natural gifts put her on track to massive, mainstream superstardom--that is, if only she is able to suppress her natural self, not only as a Black woman, but as a queer one as well. Waithe clearly drew close inspiration from the early career of one of her idols, the late Whitney Houston, and the parallels, including a too-close-for-the-family'- comfort relationship with her best friend (Aleyse Shannon, in a Robyn Crawford analogue), are obvious.
But without that rather blatant real world association, there is not much to grasp on to beyond the images, beautifully crafted by Dosunmu and cinematographer Benoît Delhomme. Ironically, for a story revolving around identity, there is not a solid one in evidence here. It says it all that characters such bear on-the-nose symbolic names; not only Beauty, but her bickering brothers are (yes) Cain and Abel. But that's when they have a name at all; her ultra-religious parents (Niecy Nash and Giancarlo Esposito, doing what they can), and a white record executive played by Sharon Stone (labeled in the end credits simply, pointedly, as "colonizer") don't even have one. But the biggest lack is in the central character, who is so thinly drawn beyond the most vague strokes; Bradley may yet prove to be a rising talent, but it's hard to tell here when given so little to do. Not helping either is that Beauty's purportedly God-anointed singing is never heard once. Maybe that choice is supposed to reflect how the music industry robs her of her voice; however, it also robs the film of an anchoring soul.