SXSW Review: Breaking Upwards


Breaking up is hard to do, as Daryl Wein finds a new way of teaching us in his breakout film, Breaking Upwards. Yes, we love words that start with break.

If there is a certain genre that stands out for the misrepresentation of the subject it is attempting to shed light on, it has to be the romantic film. Somewhere along the way, film distributors thought it would be best to offer two forms of relationship narratives. The heartwarming tale, often starring a plastic princess, that gives us the fairy tale, or the tragic woe is me piece of fabric that makes us feel grateful for the situation we are in. Breaking Upwards does neither of these, choosing instead to display the chaos that ensues when we try to frame our emotions. The result is a story that handily examines the insecurities and imperfections that exist in a couple that has grown tired of each other, but insist on breaking up on their own terms. Breaking Upwards is a voice for the complex relationships so many twenty-something people are going through.

What do you do when the euphoria of love has faded? The film offers an answer as Daryl (Daryl Wein) and Zoe (Zoe Lister-Jones) have grown bored of their relationship. Instead of quitting each other cold turkey, they decide to take “off days” in an attempt to make the transition a bit smoother. It’s a great idea in theory. In reality, it is a train wreck, and we are on board to watch them crash. The experiment, which Wein and Lister Jones actually attempted in their relationship in real life, plays

As the two characters journey down the relationship road, they learn that separation and co-dependency can turn even good people into ugly and jealous versions of themselves. There seems to be no middle ground for the couple, unless you consider the beginning of the film as the middle, which they find unsatisfying. The closer they are, the farther apart they become. When they cater to the alleged glamor of casual relationships, they’re left longing for each other. Their actions contradict their emotions, which is understandable. They’re human.

Wein’s script and direction highlights the beauty of New York City and includes elements of Jewish culture, a welcome addition of a religious denomination that is often marginalized. The city becomes an extension of Daryl and Zoe’s relationship, which we are made aware of as the two divide the town between them. The division extends to the internet, with discussions of where the two stand on their Facebook relationship status. If you know anything about social networking, you know nothing is official until it’s on Facebook.

The complexity of the situation is balanced well, thanks to the superb acting. Wein and Lister Jones complement each other perfectly as they push and pull at each other throughout the film, trying to fill the void left in the wake of each other’s absence. Their delivery of dialogue is natural and endears us to both characters. What stands out is how real both central characters feel. The discussions in the film are memorable and natural, whether it’s making fun of guys wearing girl pants or asking why untalented models get acting roles that unique and talented performers deserve. Granted, these issues may be closer to you if you’re a hipster or performer. Those types are isolated. The theme of love is not. It is universal and Breaking Upwards understands how to reach the audience in a unique way.

Julia White and Andrea Martin offer stark and stellar contrasts as mothers who get mixed up as the dating experiment goes south.

Breaking Upwards brings to mind the works of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Zach Braff’s Garden State. Luckily, Breaking never comes off as self-serving, and Wein chooses to document both sides of the argument, resulting in a story that will touch more people. Whether it will find the success that the aforementioned films achieved isn’t so important as the fact that Wein, Lister Jones and the cast deserve similar accolades. Wein and Lister Jones poured their hearts into the film in every aspect of the production. Wein and Lister Jones both worked on the screenplay with Peter Duchan, and Lister Jones provided lyrics for almost all of the soundtrack, which should be downloaded on iTunes immediately. If the reception at SXSW is any indication, Breaking Upwards is destined to be a winner on the festival circuit and beyond.

Grade: A

Adam Sweeney has a background in journalism, having spent 4 years on the Lone Star Lutheran as an Opinions and Arts & Entertainment columnist. He graduated in May 2008 from Texas Lutheran University with a Dramatic Media degree and hopes to become a filmmaker/journalist/radio host/actor extraordinaire. He also writes film and play scripts and figures if Good Luck Chuck can make it to the big screen then why can't he? He can also be read at as a feature writer on all things basketball, and his personal blog covers everything from politics to why Keira Knightley is looking more like Jack Skellington every day. (

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