Written by: Heidi Shepler | April 15th, 2021
We Broke Up (Jeff Rosenberg, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.
Breaking up and staying together are equally hard to do in Jeff Rosenberg’s We Broke Up. Like another of the film’s producer Mason Novik’s most famous projects, 500 Days of Summer, this film is a story about love, if not a love story. Another, more unfortunate similarity is the haunting presence of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. While the actors’ performances bring impressive vulnerability, the motivations and feelings of the women in this film remain either shallow or seemingly arbitrary. For a film which seems interested in granting both its heroines agency, the result is a mixed bag of potential and disappointment.
Lori (Aya Cash, Season 2 of Amazon’s The Boys) and Bea (Sarah Bolger, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find) are sisters with an uptight, judgmental mother and an absentee father. Both are deeply affected by hardships from their upbringing, which make intimate relationships challenging for them. Bea is the stereotypically flighty little sister, whom Lori has always tried to support and protect. For the last ten years, Lori has relied on her boyfriend Doug (William Jackson Harper, Midsommar) for stability and for escape from her family.
Now, Bea is getting married (to a man she’s only known for a month, naturally) while Lori and Doug must decide whether to break up or get married. After Doug proposes and Lori immediately vomits, the choice seems clear. But when they’re thrown together by the necessity of helping out with Bea’s wedding, they question themselves. They love each other, so why shouldn’t they be together?
Why, indeed. What is it that makes some relationships viable and not others? We Broke Up offers no definitive answers, falling back instead on such lines as “I know we can make it work” or “we just can’t.” In Lori and Doug’s case, it might be enough that they just want different things from life. Doug knows what he wants, and we know what Lori doesn’t want, but we don’t ever get insight into what she does want. The film encourages us not to blame or judge Lori for refusing Doug’s proposal, which is refreshing. But the plot also suggests that she simply lacks emotional intelligence and ambition. This becomes uncomfortable when taken in context of the other women in the film. Her sister is also severely lacking in emotional intelligence and maturity, and the other women are mostly plot devices. Meanwhile, both Bea’s fiancé, Jayson (Tony Cavalero, An American in Texas), and Doug, are tender, loving and secure.
What makes the film compelling despite these issues is the performances of the actors. William Jackson Harper is great as the man who can’t help still caring about his ex and wanting to be there for her, even in the immediate aftermath of their breakup. Likewise, more than once in the film the camera stays on Aya Cash’s devastated face for a long moment, letting us feel the impact of her sorrow. And near the end of the film, when Jayson delivers a speech about how much he loves Bea, Tony Cavalero makes us see the depth and integrity in a character we might otherwise have written off as ridiculous.
We Broke Up tries to show the complexity at the end of a relationship, in which both parties still value and care for the other person. In this, it genuinely succeeds. There is real love between Lori and Doug, and regardless of what path their relationship takes, their connection shines. It’s just a shame that so many stereotypes get in the way.