We Broke Up starts well, hits a rough patch, then a dead patch, then breaks up itself, before trying to get back together. Eventually it gives up entirely while wondering how far under 90 minutes it can come in and still be called a feature-length movie. It decides on ten minutes.
It’s a great start though. Him and her. In love. Having fun just being together. Lori (Aya Cash) and Doug (William Jackson Harper) have been a couple for about ten years but the spark is evidently still there. And then out of the blue he asks her to marry him and she responds in a way he hadn’t expected – by immediately throwing up.
Mike-drop achieved, writer/director Jeff Rosenberg cuts to the car park where Lori and Doug are sitting stunned some moments later. In an exchange which we haven’t seen but was probably a bit huffy, Doug has responded to Lori’s gut reaction by dumping her, possibly just to soothe his wounded pride and almost certainly against his better judgement.
But, words having been exchanged and positions having been taken, neither Lori nor Doug is budging. The problem is the two of them have a wedding to attend to. The sort of three-day affair you get in movies in which Lori’s sister Bea (Sarah Bolger) will be getting hitched to the dude-ish older guy Jayson (Tony Cavalero), a hearty back-slapper unafraid of over-sharing. Lori and Doug decide, not wishing to drag the spotlight away from Bea, to pretend they are still an item.
Three days of purgatory beckon, for the audience and for Lori and Doug, as a reverse rom-com plays out according to the logic of the genre. Boy wins girl-loses girl-gets girl back is inverted. If you start from boy loses girl then he’s got to get her back and then lose her again, right?
Maybe that’s the film’s problem – it’s going somewhere no one particularly wants to go, a bit like that 2006 anti-romcom The Break-Up, starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn.
Cash and Harper aren’t in that Aniston/Vaughn league but they’re a likeable pair and doughty performers who plug away heroically as the couple putting on a brave face. Bolger and Cavalero are the same, huffing and puffing with all their might in an attempt to keep this flimsy tissue afloat, though they’ve got even less to work with.
Arriving to inject jeopardy, but nowhere near enough, are Azita Ghanizada and Zak Steiner as potential romantic distractions for Doug and Lori. But there’s also Peri Gilpin as the mother of Bea and Lori – she’d like the former not to marry Jayson, and the latter to get a wiggle-on and marry Doug.
I mention the names of all concerned because they’ve all been so badly served by Jeff Rosenberg and co-writer Laura Jacqmin’s screenplay, which feels like a montage of the most inconsequential moments from one of those TV dating shows set on an island.
The perils of the long-term relationship and negotiating no-intimacy (Lori and Doug are expected to share a room while at the wedding) after a sustained period of intimacy are up for examination, I suppose, and everything looks nice – warmly intimate lighting, Lori and Doug dress in vividly colourful clothes. A movie got made and everyone got paid.
The question is how did this get made? At what pitch meeting did someone not ask the question that should have been asked – “and then what happens?” A bucket drops into the shaft of a dry well. A Tibetan prayer wheel clacks around unattended in the wind.
More to the point, when all is said and done, is where are the laughs?
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© Steve Morrissey 2021