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By Melanie Haupt, March 20, 2009, Screens

Talk It Out: 'Breaking Upwards'

Once upon a time, a girl and a boy were very much in love, but things had got a bit stale. So, in an effort to save their relationship, they decided to ... break up three days a week? Such is the tale of filmmaker Daryl Wein and his girlfriend and partner, Zoe Lister-Jones; Breaking Upwards is a charming, snappy, fictionalized version of their romantic experiment.

"Making it was therapeutic in a lot of ways," says Wein, who previously directed the South by Southwest 08 documentary Sex Positive. "It was weird; it was totally awkward at times. When we started the process, Zoe wasn't actually involved. It was really weird for her while [co-writer] Peter [Duchan] and I were writing the script."

"I didn't know what kind of creative license one could have when actually relating word-for-word fights we were having," Lister-Jones explains. "I was uncomfortable, but he wrote it as a way to process what was happening. It was really a strange thing to be going through."

Indeed, the breakup takes place amid the backdrop of the dull roar of imminent adulthood, that postgraduation rite of passage that every young twentysomething faces, marked by the tension between pursuing one's own dreams and maybe settling for what one is "supposed" to do. It's a time of searching, but the cacophony of voices – parents, friends, society, lovers – is deafening.

"When you graduate, you immediately have an existential crisis in trying to find your place in the world, what you want to do," muses Wein. "Our society puts so much pressure on you to succeed so quickly. And that was happening when Zoe and I were going through this in real life. All that colliding at the same time forced me to ask a lot of questions about what I wanted: Do I want to be in a monogamous relationship right now? It was hard to process."

What better way to process than to turn the whole shebang into a film, one that is DIY to the teeth – Wein and Lister-Jones, who now live together, did everything on the movie from writing, starring, producing, and editing to catering and singing on the soundtrack – but also in possession of an archetypal classic Hollywood romantic-comedy structure. The dialogue zings off the screen, so true to life that it's hard to believe it isn't improvised.

"The movie is 95 percent scripted," Wein insists. "We worked really hard to make it seem like our characters weren't meandering; one of the inspirations for this movie was that we wanted to portray our age group actively seeking out answers and trying to figure out these issues of codependency and monogamy [but also] with a focus on structure, story, and craftsmanship."

Lister-Jones interjects: "We wanted to show that there's a middle ground [in filmmaking] – that it's not just Hollywood or totally anti-Hollywood. You can be outside of Hollywood and making totally independent cinema and still subscribe to the craftsmanship of a Hollywood film."

For now, the couple is living happily ever after. But that's always up for discussion.

Friday, March 20, 11:30am, Alamo Ritz

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