Breaking Up Onscreen Is Hard to Do (Well)

04/02/2010 4:00 AM |

Breaking Upwards
Directed by Daryl Wein

The most significant emotional experience of a young man’s life is often his first big break-up, which might explain why we see so many separation movies starring twentysomethings—”my specific heartbreaking story must be told!” It’s particularly the case in the indies, where emerging artists are encouraged to indulge their Deepest Feelings. On the more mainstream, and shallower, side, there was last year’s (500) Days of Summer; on the indier, sincerer side, there’s the alternately endearing and exhausting Breaking Upwards. Both deal with unremarkable Millennials working through unremarkable problems. The question is, do they do so remarkably?

Well, in the case of Breaking Upwards—sort of. (For the former—no way!) Real-life couple Zoe Lister Jones (who also wrote the soundtrack’s lyrics and co-wrote the script) and Daryl Wein (who also directed and edited and more!), star as characters of the same names: barely post-collegiate, overeducated, underemployed gallery-going types in a four-year relationship, trying to negotiate a step back from serious involvement. They are “taking days off,” which raises minor problems: what do they put on Facebook? (Duh, “It’s Complicated.”) Who gets Madison Square Park from 2 to 4? Can they still watch Idol together on Tuesdays? They fell in love too young and now must suffer through sundering two entwined lives in order to flourish independently. But first, they have to talk everything to death. (The characters’ articulacy is aggressively anti-mumble.)

At least they do so (sometimes) in places other than their apartments; Wein also sets scenes at parties, black box theaters, private karaoke rooms and art openings, in pool halls, and, Woody Allenishly, on city sidewalks. Using lots of montages, Breaking Upwards plays as two sketches of (very Jewish) characters, coasting through an ambling narrative as they do city streets on their bicycles. It’s fleetingly charming, thanks to Wein’s nerdy appeal (Jones is his angular-faced straightwoman) and The Jewish Moms, SCTV-vet Andrea Martin and The Little Dog Laughed‘s Julie White (er, the mom from Transformers). But the movie suffers whenever it tries to level out its goofy grin and indulge its emotional vicissitudes. The leads’ unhappy parents make poor relationship role models; it hurts to see your ex with somebody else; random hook-ups can leave you feeling empty; some guys are jerks. I know, we all know—breaking up is sad! And hard. You’ll get over it. Somebody ought to explain to children of privilege everywhere that watching their romantic dissolution play out doesn’t seem as meaningful to anybody else as it does to them. What’s next, it’s hard to get up in the morning and go to work? But at least Wein’s getting it out of his system now; maybe the only thing more tiresome than watching young people break up is the “what’s happening to my marriage?” movie.

Opens April 2