Breaking Upwards (2009) Poster

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8/10
A Wonderful Intimate Movie
macleod55557 June 2009
Back when I was in high school, I showed a group of my friends Woody Allen's Annie Hall. When it was over, everyone agreed that they'd enjoyed it, but I was asked to explain why, exactly, it was such a classic/masterpiece/staple of American filmdom. At the time I didn't really have a good answer beyond the fact that it was funny. But looking back, I saw that aside from being one of the best romantic comedies, it was also one of the saddest romantic tragedies. And the tragedy isn't theatrical melodramatic. The couple isn't separated by war or terminal illness or mutual suicide or anything like that. The tragedy is quieter: the lovers separate because, simply, people fall out of love. Or, put directly by a stranger passing Woody Allen on the street, "Love fades." And afterwords, when everything settles, the partners are older and hopefully wiser, able to look back fondly from a distance without bitterness or regret. And that, to me, is more beautiful and sad than any idealized tragic love affair.

All of which brings us to Breaking Upwards, another New York tragicomic love story, which I had the good fortune of seeing this weekend at the Brooklyn International Film Festival (or BIFF). Breaking Upwards follows two New York hipsters who, after a four year relationship, decide that they're no longer happy together but somehow can't stand being apart. And so they decide to break up by increments: they take days off, experiment with open relationships, and hope that they can wean themselves off of co-dependence.

The film feels very much like a labor of love. In an autobiographical move (one that feels more gutsy than indulgent), filmmakers Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones co-wrote the script based on their own relationship and star, somewhat nakedly, as fictionalized versions of themselves, even sharing their first name with their character. (Wein also directs, and Lister-Jones wrote the lyrics for the film's original songs). But more important is that it feels real: intimate and heartfelt.

At its best, the film feels very well observed, with a naturalistic tone that knows how to find small bits of comedy and sadness in the details. The performers play off one another with ease and chemistry, as the situation starts funny and turns melancholy. Daryl and Zoe trade off the upper-hand, each taking turns feeling hurt and, despite their intentions, being hurtful.

The film plays with conflicting desires: possessiveness with a need for freedom, looking for someone else and regretting it afterwords. And for the most part, it plays the emotion with a light hand. "I don't want to do this if you're not OK," Zoe says to Daryl before she goes to stay with another man. "Yes you do," he cuts her off. And then the exchange ends with exasperated sighs and a parting of ways.

Unfortunately, the film does less well in moments that feel more calculated: a laugh line here or there, a character, a scene. Near the end, the public dinner table climax (followed by a witty remark) feels closer to stock movie situations than the naturalism that suits the film so well.

But it ends quiet and open, with graceful ambiguity.

Part of Breaking Upwards' appeal is the hand-crafted appeal of independent film. Extras are enthusiastically credited based on how many times they were willing to appear (3x!), and the way the lighting sometimes switches from realism to expressionism, rather than an inconsistency, feels like new filmmakers playing with technique. Even the occasional low sound quality adds to the feeling of young people making do.

At the screening, the filmmakers said that they've been having difficulty finding a distributor so far, which is a pity. The movie is not perfect or Earth-shattering or anything more than a fine redux of older ideas (the main caveat is that anyone with an aversion for hipsters would likely be turned off). But it's funny and it's sad, covering time-honored thematic ground with an open-hearted affection that makes those time-honored themes feel personal. And it's better than most movies that are out right now.

At the screening I went to, you could feel everyone on the emotional wavelength of the movie. Personal and universal are similar. Here's hoping that more people get the chance to see it.
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6/10
To Be 23 Again....Or Maybe I'd Rather Not
evanston_dad11 November 2010
Ah, kids.

My primary reaction watching "Breaking Upwards" was that I'm....old. OK, so I'm only 35, but this movie made 23 feel like a looong time ago. It follows the travails of two younguns struggling with a waning relationship while at the same time scared to cut loose altogether. They instead try to go at relationship resuscitation in an ordered, spreadsheet fashion, scheduling days apart and establishing ground rules. By the time the film is over, you just want to say "break up already, it's not that bad....trust me, you'll find someone else."

I have a toddler and my wife is pregnant with our second child. I will have 23 year old kids someday, and I know from experience that things only seem to not be a big deal once you're old enough to look back at them -- everything seems important while you're in the middle of it. Therefore, out of respect to the filmmakers, and my own children, I don't want to dismiss the emotions in this movie as being unimportant just because it's kids feeling them. But my wife and I spent more time being amused by the two lovers in this movie than feeling empathy for them.

A handful of fairly well-known stage actors appear in supporting roles, like Pablo Schreiber (brother of Liev), Peter Friedman, Andrea Martin and Julie White, who plays one of the most awful, overbearing Jewish mothers ever committed to film.

This movie is likable but immature.

Grade: B
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8/10
impressive movie
hal-23429 December 2011
I agree with the criticisms here, but find them easy to ignore. OK, it doesn't look like a Hollywood production, and the actors are not the best you could imagine. So what? I thought it was quite an accomplishment, given that the two stars are also involved in the screenplay, direction, and production. Yes, the characters don't really know what they want, but isn't that the point? The movie is a picture of a couple on the verge of permanence, and neither of them is quite ready to say yes or to say no. It's a very painful situation, but each of them feels the pain in different ways and at different times. After four years they know each other extremely well, but at the same time they can't quite get it together enough to really communicate. Yes, some of the things that they do are irrational, but people in this situation don't always think straight. Yes, there are lots of movies about breakups, but this one seemed original and very moving to me.
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3/10
We walked out
jmc476930 May 2010
My wife and I see a lot of independent movies and in our opinion, this is one of the worst of the year. We ended up walking out about two-thirds of the way through. In Breaking Upwards Daryl and Zoe are a twenty-something New York couple who have been together for four years. One day she decides that even though she still loves Daryl, all the excitement has gone out their relationship (sex is so boring). Though a little puzzled by Zoe's coolness, Daryl agrees to explore different options.

Our main problem was that we didn't like Zoe. She is one of those girls who are pretty poison. She's attractive enough to bewitch the guys but too neurotic, self-centered, and lacking in self-esteem to sustain a long-term relationship. Daryl is a nice enough guy and he could do better. We were rooting for him to break up with Zoe and find a more normal girl.

Zoe Lister Jones is not going to win any acting awards for this movie. And the script only makes things worse. Much of it is boring improvisation (or so it seems). Some scenes, particularly the karaoke scene, are painful to watch. Another frustration is the "idiot plot": Daryl and Zoe do so many things to sabotage their romance. Any idiot in the audience would know better. Their main plan is to take certain days of the week off from the relationship. Their parents ask, "What does that mean? We don't understand." Neither do we.
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9/10
thoroughly enjoyable.
mrizzo-903-70311421 November 2010
I loved this film. I'm not a big "indie" buff but I found myself pleasantly surprised.

The story line was touching. At times you wanted to hate Zoe, making the movie all the more enjoyable. Characters with flaws, even flaws that annoy the hell out of the audience, are needed sometimes. I felt like these were real people, largely due to the script and the acting. (both of which were great.) This was a story of love: confused, strange love. But I highly enjoyed it regardless.

Daryl Wein has an immense amount of talent and knows how to beautifully tell a story.
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1/10
Don't even think about wasting your time with this
SaMoFilmGuy13 November 2010
Unattractive leads, a boring story and characters who all sound like they're rejects from a bad Woody Allen script combine to make this film unwatchable. The filmmakers display an incredible lack of talent from their slight plot to their casting failures to their inability to even make the film look good. In this era of cheap digital production there is no excuse for a film looking as bad as this. Who did their lighting? Obviously their egos got in the way of getting better actors for the leads, but did no one point out the meandering story or see in the dailies how bad the film was shot? Maybe friends aren't just those who'll give you money to make a film. Maybe real friends are those who tell you you're on the wrong path.
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5/10
Made me sad
MovieHead1235 January 2021
This movie was sad. They had grown so comfortable, and they loved each other... but they fell out of love? The movie Celeste and Jesse Forever copied this movie.
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5/10
planned breakup
SnoopyStyle25 June 2016
New York couple Zoe (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Daryl (Daryl Wein) are starting to drift apart. They decide to be proactive and plan for their breakup. They plan for days off for their relationship. His parents Joanie (Julie White) and Alan (Peter Friedman) don't understand. Helaine (Andrea Martin) is her weird mom. Zoe sees another actor from her work as they struggle to navigate their new relationship path.

I'm a big fan of Zoe Lister-Jones. She's funny and has great vulnerability. This is a reverse romance. It's not quite as fun. There are funny bits. There are moments of good chemistry but it's hard to stay with them. It's a nice attempt but it doesn't quite work.
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