BREAKING UPWARDS C-
USA (88 mi) 2009 d: Daryl Wein
A break-up movie for indecisive masochists, where from the opening sequence in bed it’s a struggle for this young couple to maintain their interest and attraction for one another, where co-writer Zoe (Zoe Lister Jones) tells Daryl (director Daryl Wein), in an autobiographical quagmire resembling their own real life, that she’s getting bored with their same tired routines, suggesting maybe they should give it a break for awhile. But instead of actually separating, they plan to the minutest detail, like a divorce proceeding about who gets the kids, what days they will spend together and what days they will remain apart, making it a rule that they should not contact one another on their off days. Their subsequent time away from one another brings nothing but distrust, where they develop suspicions and start nit picking, making accusations, and generally increase the level of their dislike for one another, eventually resulting in a full blow flare up where they effectively end it about 30 minutes into the film. But then they inexplicably continue to see one another, as if that never happened, where they bicker and fight and feel utterly miserable, scenes that are painful to watch as the single note emotional tone of the film never changes.
While there were some in the theater that were laughing, perhaps thinking these abominable situations are reminiscent of their own pathetic lives, there was really nothing to laugh at in this film, as the characters couldn’t be less interesting, showing little to no regard for others, which translates to no self esteem, feeling useless themselves. Daryl is an adult living at home with parents that don’t even like each other, so he has no model for success. He has a dead end job as a babysitter for a single woman’s child, showing no real interest in the child or the job, but it’s what he does to earn whatever little he makes, while Zoe is continually trying to mold herself into various roles in order to eek out a living as an actress, currently working in some two-bit theater. The film is relentlessly downbeat, where what the audience has to look forward to throughout the entire film is watching this couple mope around feeling sorry for themselves, growing more and more defensive, occasionally resorting to bitterness and anger.
Using the Andrew Bujalski template for filmmaking, it’s all based on a minimalist concept of showing the dreariness of ordinary life, where people have to continually delude themselves in order to get through their daily experiences or resort to large drug or alcohol intake. There’s no concept of ambition, or of a world out there that’s better than the existing doldrums, so the featured characters are mired in a world of their own self-centeredness, continually overwhelmed by their own indifference to everything around them. This is the American Dream lost without putting forth any effort at all, as it disappeared long ago during early adolescence. It has no place in these adult lives. Part of the ugliness of the film are the constant gay references, which the characters think are so cute and witty, as they call men gay to avoid arousing suspicions about men’s real sexual interests, which is another way of avoiding telling the truth. Since this theme exists throughout the film, the intent is always to neutralize a subject by calling someone gay, which couldn’t be more offensive and derisive, as it suggests gay men are not worth taking seriously.
Similarly, actress Olivia Thirlby makes a few brief appearances in this film, each time suggesting an interesting character may finally be discovered, but she soon drifts out of sight, not to be taken seriously. Instead the director resorts to the Maurice Pialat trick bag, particularly a dysfunctional family dinner scene that Pialat himself used so infamously in À NOS AMOURS (1983), laying waste to an otherwise celebratory Passover Seder, choosing this moment to humiliate Zoe in front of the entire family, including Zoe’s invited mother, a devastating moment that puts an exclamation point on things gone wrong. Still, even after the break-up has been announced and plans made to move on with their lives, these two knuckleheads have second thoughts and continue to hold out hope. After all, their misery, apparently, is the best thing that’s ever happened in their lives, as they went on and made a movie about it. A glib attempt at something honest, but with all the tedium and without a hint of connection to any of the characters, this is painful to sit through as it feels like such a complete waste of time for everyone involved.