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Photo: ‘We Broke Up’/Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
The Rom-Com genre has always been a widely accessible and popular subsect of movies, however, that popularity is not always directly correlated to the actual quality of production, itself. Romantic comedies thrive when they have likable, attractive stars with large enough names to get butts in seats based on cast, alone. Usually, you can expect some cheesy shmooze-fest with unoriginal ideas and what could be described as tactless romance. ‘We Broke Up’ is one of those releases that defies all of your expectations upon an initial watch, servicing almost none of the contrived rom-com stereotypes.
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A tight script, great acting from the entire cast, and some lovely cinematography sets ‘We Broke Up’ apart from its genre contemporaries. In only 80 minutes, the film packs a punch both comedically and emotionally. The writers, Jeff Rosenberg and Laura Jacqmin wonderfully paint a group of loveable eccentrics and create some truly intelligent set-ups and pay-offs. The characters are the highlights of the movie, to say the least. Aya Cash and William Jackson Harper both give winning performances and have tremendous chemistry, but Tony Cavalero and Peri Gilpin steal the show.
The two put forth supremely unique and authentic portrayals, capturing the soul and ideals of the characters assigned. Writer/Director Jeff Rosenberg demonstrates a deep connection to the characters visually, as well. By using some traditional, yet effective techniques, Rosenberg allows his actors to really perform, often letting takes go on for a minute or more, accompanied only by a long zooming in of the frame. ‘We Broke Up’ is a vastly introspective and thematic depiction of modern love, altruistically viewing the harmonious destruction of a life once lived together and, with painful honesty, portrays a story of the final days within a relationship.
‘We Broke Up’ – Themes (With some minor spoilers)
‘We Broke Up’ is a unique entry to the rom-com film variety in the sense that it pays immense attention to detail, laying out each plot beat in a designed fashion and oftentimes foreshadowing upcoming beats. For instance, when our main couple arrives at the hotel, they’re out of rooms with two beds (which the couple now need because, you know, they broke up!) so they have a comedic exchange with the lobby boy (hilariously played by Eduardo Franco of ‘Booksmart’ fame) and learn they will be upgraded to a cabin.
They now have the option between spaces named Duck Duck Goose, Rover Red Rover, and Spin the Bottle, a tongue-in-cheek reference to future events that would spell the penultimate ending of our characters’ relationship. What I mean by bringing these instances to the forefront is, this film utilizes a lot of neat and clever techniques, never overreaching, always remaining in service of the greater narrative themes. Namely, the theme of outgrowing your position in life with your partner and being with a person you don’t really love.
This film studies the interpersonal relationships between partners, loved ones, family, and even the people you don’t really like but is forced to endure for the good of the group (you know the type, the stoner who’s dating your cousin or the strangely flirty grandpa). These themes are explored on a relationship to relationship basis, with each character receiving some interaction that leads to their ultimate lesson. My favorite of these themes comes between the absolutely charming Tony Cavalero, Peri Gilpin, and Aya Cash. Gilpin’s character doesn’t want her daughter, Bea, played by Sarah Bolger, to marry Cavalero because he’s a free spirit, unconventional, and spontaneous. She exclaims that you should never rush into things and be with people you don’t truly love, a lesson she learned from her own experience.
However, Cavalero would go on to prove her wrong, growing as a character and winning over the hearts of the family unit while Cash, in an unexpected twist, is the one who breaks off her 10-year relationship, instead. Although a bit derivative, these ideas are set up with extreme attention to detail, really levying the connection the audience feels within the moment. ‘We Broke Up’ explores the dynamics between personalities and the hidden lives that exist behind the facade of smiling faces, really cutting deep.
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Some touching laughs
Frankly, the first 15 minutes of ‘We Broke Up’ are the worst part of the film, a problem that is likely to hold it back from any widespread success. The film’s initial set-up is not all that creative and really is not funny at all. The film does go back to that initial set-up later on, giving it some much-needed emotional context which makes it much more impactful. Although, I am not sure it will be enough to save the film from the impatient opinion of the audience. Around the 20-30 minute mark, I found myself laughing out loud a number of times, finally beginning to get involved in the characters, themselves. ‘We Broke Up’ has a uniquely adult humor, a degree of comedy that comes through an existential crisis, through experience, the kind of experience that breaks your heart, makes you cry, and then makes you a better person. It’s never crude, always respectful, and puts together some quality jokes.
‘We Broke Up’ derives its humor from the narrative of the story, with each joke or action being in response to a set-up that predicates the pay-off. To round out my previous example with Cavalero and the incorrect assumption of his inability to wed, the group decides to play a game of rover, red rover (another reference from earlier in the film), and Cavalero hilariously falls flat on his face inches before running through Cash and Jackson Harpers hands, losing the game. This may seem like the pay-off, but in actuality, it’s the set-up. Later on, Jackson Harper confides in Cavalero about his own relationship issues with Cash.
Then, in a confrontation between Cavalero and Cash, she voices her opinion in opposition of the marriage only for Cavalero to drop a bombshell, saying, maybe you shouldn’t be the one to be giving out relationship advice since your relationship is dying, then casually walks between the couple, breaking through their intertwined hands. Finally, Cavalero has won the game of rover, red rover.
Rosenberg, as the writer, has now connected three different scenes together in a way that would have been totally unidentifiable when the first instance happened less than 20 minutes into the film. Building the weight of the joke over time, only revealing the true pay-off an hour later. That’s some serious attention to detail and is the kind of stuff I love to see from my “run of the mill rom-com.”
Shot composition extravagance
There is a recurring technique used in ‘We Broke Up’ whenever our two protagonists have a deep conversation, it really adds some flavor to the film and some unique depth to the cinematography. I’m not certain as to who thought up the idea, Rosenberg or cinematographer Andrew Aiello, but nonetheless, it’s a great technique.
The two main characters will enter the frame and stand directly center within the field of view accompanied by an absolutely beautifully designed shot behind them. They use some longer lenses to get a satisfying enough background blur to create separation, but not enough to disturb the overall shot composition. As the two characters begin to speak, the shot is wide, creating the appearance of a portrait. The two are portrayed as if their entire existence revolves around one another, with our focus narrowing on as we listen further. As the conversation goes longer, the director allows the shot to run with no cuts, only pulling tighter with a long zoom on the two characters’ faces.
What I really enjoyed about the camera work throughout ‘We Broke Up’ though, was the minimalist appearance it lent itself to. Scenes are allowed to breathe, oftentimes stretching minutes without cuts, and each shot proves as beautiful as the last. Lots of wide angles and open scenery. The color pallet is muted with low contrast, but the colors are deeply saturated, and, to create a Wes Anderson feel (Definitely not the extent that Anderson achieves, but it’s still pretty) shots are center focused, often having perfectly symmetrical backgrounds. The film is largely a portrait, and a good one at that, of the painful end of a love, reserved yet colorful. ‘We Broke Up’ is a uniquely beautiful film.
This is a film I would recommend to anyone. You could take the whole family, you could go on a romantic date, or even see it yourself with a tub of ice cream on your couch, it doesn’t matter, anyone can get something from this film. I’m sure ‘We Broke Up’ will never receive any large-scale rapport, as the initial box office and audience reception has been less than stellar. There has been next to no marketing done for the film and it’s been largely subjected to the confines of a genre piece, worst of all, that genre being rom-com. I believe the overall mishandling of this film’s distribution and marketing will lead to it being, more or less, a “failure,” and that really upsets me.
In a climate where slapping a production company name and a franchise tag on something guarantees financial success. What does this say about we, the consumers? Are we so detached from quality, diluted to the Nth degree, that we are willing to settle for the lowest common denominator? I hope not, and I believe we are moving away from that fate, despite the best efforts of large production companies schilling multiple huge budget productions a year. The only way to bring attention to hidden gems like these is to go out and see them and then tell your friends you saw it and that they should see it, too. If you want to watch a good, underappreciated comedy with some endearing and emotional themes, check out ‘We Broke Up’ and leave a review on IMDB or Letterboxd if you enjoyed it.
By Tyler Sear
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Tyler Sear is an athlete and writer with a philosophical perspective to film. With aspirations to direct feature length films, Tyler brings a critical eye and philosophic approach to film, striving to give unbiased opinions while campaigning for equality and impartiality in Hollywood, today. This sense of morality makes Tyler uniquely qualified to address timely issues and recent releases within film. By tackling interesting topics, Tyler aligns with Hollywood Insider’s intentional mission to ignore sensationalized rumor and strive to present factual and entertaining content.