Breaking Upwards

Alternate modern romance: Couple take weekly days off from each other

Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones in “Breaking Upwards,’’ which is based on a chapter in their real-life relationship. Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones in “Breaking Upwards,’’ which is based on a chapter in their real-life relationship. (IFC Films)
By Tom Russo
Globe Correspondent / July 16, 2010

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Indie filmmaker/actor Daryl Wein and costar/writing partner Zoe Lister-Jones clearly are believers in the old Neil Sedaka pearl that breaking up is hard to do. Hence the way they’ve fictionalized a chapter in their real-life relationship in the comedy-drama “Breaking Upwards.’’

Onscreen, the two play young New Yorkers who decide to try taking weekly “days off’’ from each other, hoping to do something about the rut they’ve fallen into in their moldy old mid-twenties. Their unconventional plan includes a lot of strategizing, rationalizing, and coffee-shop list-making with buzzwords like “proactive’’ and “growth.’’ They’ve got to choose their commitment-free days and nights carefully, or — downer! — they might inadvertently end up watching “Idol’’ alone.

Naturally, it isn’t long before they start to get uptight about the ostensibly hang-loose arrangement. Daryl gets angry that Zoe is ignoring her cell. Zoe gets bluesy when Daryl is partying too hard to hear her calling to say she misses him. Zoe’s kind of into her smarmy castmate (Pablo Schreiber) from a play she’s doing. Daryl’s got some late-night options, too, never mind that he’s now crashing at his parents’, hitting synagogue mixers, and projecting all the cool of French Stewart.

Wein, Lister-Jones, and co-writer Peter Duchan script some funny moments, whether it’s broad stuff like Zoe having an awkward post-coital sob session at yoga class — oh, those hormonally deadly balancing poses — or wry wordplay.

Daryl, taking a belated return call from Zoe: “I’m a little irate.’’

Zoe: “Can you be ‘a little’ irate?’’

Still, scenes meant to play as breezy and hip are more often just annoying. The early going might bog down completely if not for comedic lifts from Julie White (“Transformers’’) as Daryl’s nagging, nosy mother, and especially Andrea Martin (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding’’) as Zoe’s mom, a doobie-puffing, beatific-yet-foulmouthed hoot.

The film gets stronger and more involving as the drama gets heavier and the couple’s rift grows. (The look of the movie, meanwhile, veers back and forth, not much more attractive than mumblecore at points, and lushly sexy at others.) The climactic setup is essentially standard romantic comedy: a big Seder at which all the assembled finally blurt out their bottled-up feelings. No trite, tidy resolutions here, though. It’s one of the spots where Wein and Lister-Jones, to their credit, don’t feel compelled to strive for dubious rom-com cuteness.

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Directed by: Daryl Wein

Written by: Peter Duchan, Wein, and Zoe Lister-Jones

Starring: Wein, Lister-Jones, Julie White, Peter Friedman, Andrea Martin, and Pablo Schreiber

At: Brattle Theatre

Running time: 88 minutes


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