William Jackson Harper and Aya Cash have just enough charm to salvage this low-key romantic dramedy.
We Broke Up wastes no time cutting to the chase of its own title. The first scene quickly and efficiently introduces the breezy, playful dynamic between longtime partners Doug (William Jackson Harper) and Lori (Aya Cash) as they banter in a restaurant while waiting for takeout. By the end of the scene, Doug pulls a proposal out of nowhere and Lori proceeds to vomit right then and there. It’s one of the few times We Broke Up even tries to push the comedy into its supposed rom-com format.
Really, the film is a hangout, indie dramedy with some poignant messaging about the limits of monogamous relationships — so, Drinking Buddies, if it had some heightened, comedic interludes that are honestly more amusing than chuckle-worthy. The setup is certainly worthy of begetting hijinks, as it turns out Doug and Lori have broken up right before they have to attend her younger sister’s wedding. To keep from derailing the weekend with their bad news, the former couple agrees to keep their separation a secret for as long as possible.
One of the nice surprises in We Broke Up is its unconventional choice of setting, which nicely ties into the spontaneity of the bride and groom and the fact that this is a rushed marriage on their part. Rather than take us through yet another wedding movie set in a lush vacation spot with loads of bit comedians, the film instead puts us in a Paul Bunyan-themed summer camp somewhere near the Ozarks. Because, well, that’s where Lori’s sister, Bea (Sarah Bolger) got her first period. Get it?
Again, the humor in We Broke Up isn’t always the strongest. That might be because director Jeff Rosenberg (O.J.: The Musical) positions each scene as a building block to fully realizing these characters, who at first glance seem like the right fit for each other. Rosenberg co-wrote the script with Laura Jacqmin, and it’s an impressively tight, economically paced character study that gradually reveals just the right amount of backstory and motivation for understanding Doug and Lori as two multi-dimensional people at a profound crossroads in their lives.
On the one hand, We Broke Up raises a litany of smart questions about how couples ultimately grow apart despite being so inextricably tied. In Doug and Lori’s case, we eventually find out that they’ve been dating for over 10 years, and part of the reason Doug feels entitled to attend this wedding is because of his close connection to Lori’s family. It’s still an odd, hardly defensible choice for him to insert himself this way, but it all ties into the fundamental flaw that ultimately drives Doug away from the person he loves and who loves him back.
If only We Broke Up had some resolution for these honest takeaways. By the end of the film, it’s clear what went wrong in this relationship to a specific degree, but it’s not really clear where the film really stands on what Doug and Lori can do next to resolve their issues.
We Broke Up raises a litany of smart questions about how couples ultimately grow apart despite being so inextricably tied.
Perhaps that’s even the point. For Lori, it all comes down to her having a different definition of love and how to plan, or not plan, for the future in the ways she feels comfortable. These characters would have been poisoned to the audience if it were implied too quickly that Doug is simply too selfish to put himself in Lori’s shoes, or that Lori is simply afraid of commitment, and that’s all there is to it.
For many, We Broke Up is sure to be an engaging, maybe even cathartic experience. Just not the most memorable or lasting one. Its central characters are at their best when allowed to awkwardly endure awkward family situations, like meeting and sometimes pretending to like new people, specifically Bea’s brash fiancé Jayson (Tony Cavalero), who has a surprisingly powerful moment of his own by the film’s excellent final act.
But it’s also fair to say that We Broke Up itself doesn’t really have all that much to say that fans of the genre haven’t heard plenty of times before. It just goes about its familiar premise with a particularly thoughtful, well-meaning script. It’s the equivalent of hearing a long, roundabout story about someone else’s relationship falling apart, and sure, it has some funny moments sprinkled in for good effect. But by the end, you might wonder why this story needed to be told at all, even though you pretty much enjoyed it.
We Broke Up hits select theaters and on demand on April 23rd.