Two Lovers, Looking To Green Up The Grass A Bit

Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein i i

hide captionCoffee Talk: In Breaking Upwards, Daryl (Daryl Wein) and Zoe (Zoe Lister-Jones) decide to mix things up when their relationship goes stale. Their new deal: For four days a week, they'll be boyfriend and girlfriend. The rest is negotiable.

Alex Bergman
Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein

Coffee Talk: In Breaking Upwards, Daryl (Daryl Wein) and Zoe (Zoe Lister-Jones) decide to mix things up when their relationship goes stale. Their new deal: For four days a week, they'll be boyfriend and girlfriend. The rest is negotiable.

Alex Bergman

Breaking Upwards

  • Director: Daryl Wein
  • Genre: Anti-romantic comedy
  • Running Time: 89 min
Not rated: Sexual situations, partial nudity

With: Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones, Julie White, Peter Friedman, Andrea Martin

It could be an insufferably precious scenario: two actual paramours playing two fictional paramours who negotiate a possible breakup. Well, the semi-autobiographical, microbudgeted Breaking Upwards is indeed precious. But it's also smart, witty and less self-absorbed than you might reasonably expect.

Daryl (director and co-writer Daryl Wein) and Zoe (co-writer Zoe Lister-Jones) are introduced in bed together. They're trying to make love the way they once did, but Zoe's just not feeling it. And while "Do something new" is the counsel offered in the electro-pop song (lyrics and vocals by Lister-Jones) that remarks on the failed encounter, Zoe and Daryl aren't ready for something as new as a total break. Instead, they arrange a system that will keep them as boyfriend and girlfriend — but only four days a week.

Can they see other people during the downtime? Daryl furtively crosses that idea off his list of proposals, but it's sure to surface again.

Zoe, a fledgling actress, is being pursued by her co-star (Pablo Schreiber) in an off-off-Broadway show. Daryl, a would-be writer, has a female friend (La Chanze) he really likes. Then he clicks with a pretty woman (Juno's Olivia Thilby) he encounters at a synagogue meet-greet-and-possibly-date-marry-and-have-kids-together. (No pressure, of course.)

A short woman who's battling for roles against actresses she considers outlandishly tall, Zoe is a force of nature. But she's no match for her own mother, Helaine (SCTV veteran Andrea Martin), or Daryl's mother, Joanie (Julie White).

Helaine is single, and a free spirit who introduces Daryl and Zoe to the idea of polyamory; Joanie is a control freak who carefully manages her dentist husband (Peter Friedman) and does a Columbo on Daryl and Zoe's on-and-off romance. She confronts them with the results of her investigation at a Passover seder, where the part-time couple's revelations of betrayal easily upstage the story of Exodus.

Zoe Lister-Jones i i

hide captionLeading Lady: Zoe, a fledgling actress, is being pursued by her co-star while boyfriend Daryl hits it off with a woman he met at a Jewish mixer — during one of their off days, of course.

Alex Bergman
Zoe Lister-Jones

Leading Lady: Zoe, a fledgling actress, is being pursued by her co-star while boyfriend Daryl hits it off with a woman he met at a Jewish mixer — during one of their off days, of course.

Alex Bergman

With its cartoonish squash and yoga sequences and its abundance of ironic band T-shirts (Ratt, New Kids on the Block), Breaking Upwards is sometimes a little too cute. But its sweet-and-sour tone is well sustained, and the script keeps an admirable sense of distance from its self-dramatizing stars.

That restraint probably owes a lot to to Wein and Lister-Jones' decision to recruit a third person, Peter Duchan, to help them write the screenplay. However much it's derived from the real-life couple's partial split, the movie feels like a full-on ensemble project, not just a couple act.

Given the arty Jewish Manhattan milieu, the film will inevitably be compared to the vintage work of Woody Allen. But Wein is more willing than Allen to let other performers take the spotlight, and even to get some laughs. So sure, Breaking Upwards may occasionally feel a little self-involved. But any movie about tormented young lovers that gives some of the best lines to their moms is a small triumph over narcissism.

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