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Breaking Upwards -- Film Review

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If only all couples would be able to exploit their relationship issues as deftly as Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones, collaborators on the new romantic dramedy "Breaking Upwards." Based on their real-life relationship, the film bears an undeniable stamp of authenticity in its depiction of the romantic crisis suffered by two twentysomethings in New York's ever picturesque Greenwich Village.

Aspiring writer Daryl (Wein) and aspiring actress Zoe (Lister-Jones) have been together for four years, and ennui has long since set in. Bored with the sex and annoyed with each other's habits, they decide to shake up their relationship by initiating a period of rigidly structured "breaks" in which they're free to explore other options.

This proves more complicated than it sounds, with each eventually succumbing to sexual temptations accompanied by the inevitable guilt and jealousy. Their concerned parents -- Zoe's pot-smoking artist mother (Andrea Martin) and Daryl's emotionally repressed dentist father (Peter Friedman) and meddling Jewish mother (Julie White) -- get involved as well, with all hell breaking loose at, where else, a Passover Seder.

The film doesn't exactly break any new ground in its depiction of relationship angst, and its narrative structure is more than a little wobbly. But it ripples with details that ring true to life, such as the diminutive Zoe's insecurity when surrounded by tall, willowy models and her attraction to a sexy actor (Pablo Schreiber) who wants to take their onstage relationship to a private level.

Shot on a reported shoestring budget of $15,000, the film nonetheless has a polished, professional look and benefits immeasurably from the entertaining contributions from such theater pros as White, Friedman, Schreiber and Martin.

The hangdog Wein and particularly the winsome Lister-Jones are appealing enough to make us truly care about whether their characters are able to work it out. But however their true-life relationship progressed, they have something worthy to show for it in this charming effort.

Opens: Friday, April 2 (IFC Films)
Production: Mister Lister
Cast: Zoe Lister-Jones, Daryl Wein, Julie White, Peter Friedman, Andrea Martin, Pablo Schreiber
Director/editor: Daryl Wein
Screenwriters: Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister-Jones, Peter Duchan
Producers: Zoe Lister-Jones, Daryl Wein
Executive producer: Bill Lister
Director of photography: Alex Bergman
Music: Kyle Forester
No rating, 88 minutes