“Breaking Upwards”: A gem of an indie film
BY ROBERT W. WELKOS
When Daryl Wein informed Zoe Lister-Jones that he was thinking of writing a screenplay about a 20-something New York Jewish couple who experiment with an “open relationship,” she didn’t exactly warm to the idea.
In fact, Wein recalled, “Zoe did not like that at all.”
And who’d blame her? What young woman (perhaps besides one of Tiger Woods’ flings) would want her love life splashed all over the big screen?
In real life, Zoe had come to Daryl one day with a proposition: she wanted a “break” from their two-year serious relationship. Not a break-up, she said, but a break. Fearful and unsure where this would end up, Wein said they agreed to take days off from each other, see other people, and see where it goes?
The more he thought about it, however, the more Wein saw cinematic possibilities in their suddenly free-to-be-with-someone-else lifestyle.
The result is “Breaking Upwards,” a smile-inducing romantic comedy with clever, Woody Allen-like dialogue and characters you actually care about.
Directed by Wein, the indie film was produced on a shoestring $15,000 budget and has garnered 70% positive reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes movie review web site, including this snippet from a New York Times critic: “Like many relationships, ‘Breaking Upwards’ starts in bed and ends on the street. The journey in between, however, feels as new as anything a tiny budget and a boatload of talent could produce.”
The film premiered last weekend at New York’s IFC Center and, Wein is quick to point out, was the top-grossing indie film in NYC ($15,467, according to Box Office Mojo). It did so well, he added, that its run was extended another week.
On Friday (April 9), the film opens at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood.
“We’re hoping to do as well in L.A.,” Wein told HollywoodNews.com.
‘Breaking Upwards’ is the first time Wein and Lister-Jones have appeared on screen together and there is a chemistry between them often not found in modern-day romantic comedies. Before that, she was associate producer on his 2008 documentary “Sex Positive” and she has co-written other screenplays with him that their agents at Gersh are currently circulating through Hollywood. They both have acted in films and television. Lister-Jones, for example, has a small role in Angelina Jolie’s next big film, “Salt.”
Wein said he began writing “Breaking Upwards” with his pal and fellow writer, Peter Duchan, in 2007 when Wein and Lister-Jones were in their open relationship.
“Zoe, at first, worried it would be exploitative,” Wein said of the project. “She didn’t know what the nature of the script was and how it compared to real life. But I didn’t want to transcribe our relationship, I wanted (the script) to be an inspiration from the real story.”
A year later, he said, “Zoe got back with me and warmed to the idea of the script and the three of us went back to writing.”
Although they considered casting two other actors in the lead roles, Wein said, they eventually chose to cast themselves using their real names to give the film a feel of authenticity. The couple also produced the film.
The biggest challenge making the movie, Wein said, was working with such a tiny budget. “We had to wear so many hats,” he said.
The film was shot over 3-and-a-half months because many of the actors were appearing in Broadway shows and the production needed to work around their schedules.
“Most of those actors Zoe had worked with,” Wein explained. “That’s how we were able to get them on board. We told them, ‘We’d love to work around your schedules because we love you as actors.'”
The cast includes Andrea Martin as Zoe’s mother, Helaine, a single, pot-smoking Brooklyn sculptor; Julie White as Daryl’s mother, Joanie, a Southern Belle turned Jewish ball breaker, who sees marriage as the only option for happiness; Peter Friedman as Daryl’s father, Alan, an introverted Upper West Side dentist; Olivia Thirlby is Erika, a knockout Daryl meets at a synagogue meet-and-greet and eventually has an affair with; and, Pablo Schreiber as Zoe’s fling, Turner, who is co-starring with her in an Off-Broadway play.
The film was shot at real-life NYC locations, Wein noted, including an Upper East Side townhouse where Zoe’s ex-boyfriend’s mother lived (she and the mother remained friends). One day, the ex-boyfriend showed up to find Wein in his room which was being used as a production office.
For the most part, their own apartment served as the film’s production office with Wein spending 12 to 16 hours a day, often in his underwear in his living room, editing hours upon hours of footage while Lister-Jones would come home after doing an Off-Broadway play, examine what he had done that day, and give notes before going to bed.
They are overwhelmed by the public response to their little gem of a film.
“The reaction has been amazing,” Wein said. “It’s been a very, very personal experience for us. Everyone is relating to it because it’s a very universal subject.”
“BREAKING UPWARDS” TRAILER