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Edited & Directed by Daryl Wein
Produced by Zoe
Lister-Jones & Wein
Written by Peter Duchan, Wein & Lister-Jones
Released by IFC Films
USA. 88 min. Not Rated
Zoe Lister-Jones, Daryl Wein, Julie White, Peter Friedman, Andrea Martin, Pablo Schreiber, LaChanze & Olivia Thirlby

This modest 20-something romantic comedy opens with a visual flair, and promises more than the usual digital coverage we’ve come to expect from the micro-budget, gentrified-boho-chic, feature-for-feature’s-sake genre. Shallow depths of field, ambiguous framings, and a creative editing scheme promise a far more creative film. What follows, unfortunately, never actually delivers on these initial promises.

The premise is that a young New York couple, Daryl and Zoe (director Daryl Wein and co-writer Zoe Lister-Jones), have invented a set of rules that will streamline what would otherwise be a painful and inefficient breakup—no calls on designated “days off” and so forth—but the pair discovers it’s just not that easy. Somewhere between a long and wordy Whit Stillman scene and a Seinfeld episode with the punch lines removed, Breaking Upwards makes a clinical analysis of what is anything but clinical. Imagine trying to pay attention through a section of Relationship Trigonometry 101.

Wein’s visual choices, influenced in part by budget constraints, occasionally resemble the tight close-up aesthetics of Hal Hartley’s Trust-era films, but forget his brilliant tactic of emotional stake-raising to the point of absurd irony (or humor, at the very least). In Hartley’s films, the closer the camera came to the characters physically, the more desperate they became. Wein’s 23-year-olds haven’t ever known desperation, and their trials are just not as interesting.

Wein and Lister-Jones, and an able supporting cast, are no doubt talented actors, to the point that this feels like an actor’s movie. Wein is a fine narrative director as well, but his sensibility is off. When the jokes are slow to arrive, we find ourselves left out of the fun every time a character laughs, and when Zoe’s and Daryl’s problems are finally revealed to be limited to which pretty friend each will hook up with on their days off, we’ve cashed out whatever investment we had. Julie White, as Daryl’s hip Jewish mother Joanie, is wonderful, but the requirements of her character are just too much. She becomes overly invested in the mechanics of her son’s relationship, and belies all the worldliness previously on display.

What becomes increasingly uncomfortable is the filmmakers’ worldview, a bubble of the young and well to do, and the downright hetero-centricity. Joanie directs a joke at Daryl: why can’t you be “gay like your brother,” so then solving their relationship issues wouldn’t be such a process. Ironic, yes, but the word “gay” is used several more times, and each time as an exclusionary tactic. Several male characters are discounted as non-competitors in Daryl’s jealous mind, or as others that aren’t affected by his type of emotional entanglements. By and large, Wein and co-writers Lister-Jones and Peter Duchan have created a claustrophobic, self-centered world where the grass is greener for everybody except young, educated, straight people. Somehow I don’t think that’s true. Michael Lee
April 4, 2010



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