“We’re Still Together” sounds like a title for a tough-love romantic drama — a study of a marriage, perhaps, that has held fast through thick and thin. But there is no such union to be found in Canadian director Jesse Klein’s plucky, rough-hewn character drama, while the platonic relationship at its center is barely a couple of hours old. Instead, the “we” of “We’re Still Together” may refer to sorely tested individuals trying to keep their own disordered lives in one piece: specifically, overweight teenage wallflower Chris (Jesse Camacho) and careering, hard-drinking single father Bobby (Joey Klein), whose paths improbably converge for a long, dark and mutually therapeutic night of the soul. If the story is built on a layer of contrivance characteristic of much North American indie fare, the compassion of Klein’s filmmaking rings true; following its premiere in competition at Karlovy Vary, further festival bookings and modest, multi-platform distribution seem assured.
Early in “We’re Still Together,” grungy checkout girl Claire (Eve Harlow) catches the shy, shuffling Chris gazing at her admiringly from the aisle, and bluntly calls him out. “Do you know the difference between looking at people and staring at them?” she scolds. It’s a fair but barbed question to ask someone who cuts a substantial physical figure, but might reasonably feel that he’s never seen at all. Would that Chris were even less visible, however, to the only peers who appear to pay him any mind: vicious, bullying dude-bro Jeremy (Alex Weiner) and his cronies. The film opens in juddering, tough-to-watch fashion, as Jeremy launches a violent, unprovoked sidewalk attack on Chris — not the first such confrontation, and not the last. At this defeated point in his life, Chris would happily settle for merely being stared at.
Viewers might assume from such schoolyard-style cruelty that Chris is an adolescent, though as it turns out, he’s in his twenties — albeit in a petrified state of not-quite-adulthood, living with his unseen mother in suburban Montreal. Klein’s script keeps a tight lid on its protagonist, revealing few details about his livelihood or his evidently conflict-riven home life. As something of a challenge to audiences’ empathy, perhaps, the film presents Chris as he might appear to any stranger on the street — including Bobby, one of the few who doesn’t walk right by. Intercepting another of Jeremy’s attacks, the thirtysomething idler defends Chris and offers him a chance to retaliate — though it’s clear from his own aggressive method of intervention that Bobby is, at best, a tarnished white knight.
As the bemused Chris semi-voluntarily joins his rescuer for an episodic night of bar-crawling, party-crashing and an illicit early-hours escapade with Bobby’s pre-teen daughter Olivia (a bright, unaffected Brielle Robillard), it emerges that they’re effectively two different ages of man-child. Crippled by confidence issues, Chris hasn’t quite been permitted by others to mature; the cocksure Bobby, on the other hand, won’t permit himself to do so, and his flaky recklessness has cost him a marriage and a full-time relationship with his child. The film isn’t so pat as to set Bobby up as a cautionary tale for the younger man, however. Amid assorted errors of judgment, insight and encouragement is also dispensed — particularly with regard to Chris’ long-nursed, finally activated crush on Claire.
Feeling a little woolly in its pacing even at 82 minutes, “We’re Still Together” can’t entirely sustain our belief in the pair’s protracted joyride all the way until dawn, particularly as the penny drops fairly early for Chris that he’s in the presence of a charismatic car-wreck. Still, the warm, palpable bond between the two leads goes a long way towards selling its frayed-at-the-edges humanism. Klein, the director’s older brother and a writer-director in his own right, is particularly electric, turning on a dime from boyish benevolence to antic sadism to ineluctable sadness — “After You’ve Gone,” delivered at a particularly Eeyore-ish tempo, is his karaoke tune of choice. Though his film is principally a two-hander, the helmer and his ensemble don’t skimp on the smaller characterizations. In a few fleeting scenes, Diana Bentley registers scorching reserves of fury, confusion and painfully enduring love as Bobby’s ex-wife, while as the cautiously intrigued object of Chris’ affection, Harlow has a Kristen Stewart-like tartness of regard and expression.
Technical contributions are generally in keeping with the irregular, spontaneous air of proceedings. Pawel Pogorzelski’s camerawork could dial down the murk in a few scenes, but effectively captures the on-the-fly energy of the characters’ strange, heady all-nighter.