Lori throwing up at his feet wasn’t quite the answer Doug expected when he popped the question at the start of “We Broke Up.” Then again, Doug calling it quits on the heels of that reaction wasn’t exactly what Lori imagined either. After all, the pair have been together for 10 good years. Luckily, audiences are in for more pleasant surprises.
In this charming outing — starring Aya Cash as Lori and William Jackson Harper as Doug — each is legitimately aggrieved by the swift turn of events in their relationship. They went from a cruise-controlled 60 to zero so quickly that the film will later revisit (in a cleverly edited montage) what precisely happened.
They are also utterly flummoxed about the rules of disengagement. Although one might hazard that atop that list would be the dictum, “Do not go with your freshly minted ex to a wedding.” But go they do — to Camp Arrowhead where Lori’s younger sister, Bea, is set to marry Jayson, a divorced surfer dude.
It’s an awkward choice to be sure, but Lori and Doug had already packed for the occasion. And, c’mon, he’s been appointed “King of the Ushers,” or some such nonsense. For Doug, not to be there would be just too weird. So the pair try to make it mildly less so by pretending to still be the perfectly reliable couple: to the betrothed duo, to Lori’s mom, to her grandparents, even.
“We Broke Up” catches a rom-com ripple and rides it toward sweet laughs and some authentic insights. It even surprises — an increasingly hard thing to pull off in the genre. Plying emotionally attuned dialogue and deft delivery, director Jeff Rosenberg and co-writer Laura Jacqmin know their way around a laugh or two. He spent time on “The Good Place” and “Veep”; she wrote for “Get Shorty” and “Grace and Frankie.”
The creative pair have wired their own his-and-her sensibilities into this story of adult affection. The result isn’t raunchy, more like “How will Lori and Doug get past the hurt?” grown-up. It’s familiar rom-com terrain that Bea and Lori’s mom, Adelaide (played by with sardonic evenness by Peri Gilpin), needles her daughters about the impetuousness of the nuptials. More unexpectedly, the movie leverages a different quandary: Is there such a thing as waiting too long to tie the knot? Both Cash and Harper maneuver their characters’ confusion — the ache and affection, habit and freedom — with believable honor, hurt and humor.
Indeed, chemistry abounds, both romantic and amicable. Two comely distractions arrive, of course, to tease further complications. Bea’s high-school friend Eric (Zak Steiner) and Jayson’s gal pal Roya (Azita Ghanizada). We’re pretty sure as handsome as Eric is, he’s a non-starter for Lori. But Roya, with her loamy Brit accent and full-on ease, makes it possible to root for more than one outcome to this story.
The filmmakers even manage to throw a wedding weekend that has intrigue and twists but nary a jerk. One might happily RSVP for such a gathering of good will and flirtation, drinking games and weed. If the onetime sleep-away camp looks rather swank, it’s because Malibu’s Calamigos Ranch — with its duck pond, Ferris wheel, waterfall — stands in for Camp Arrowhead. (Andrew Aiello’s cinematography adds an easy warmth to the comedy’s inviting vibe.)
“We Broke Up” stays together nicely thanks to Cash and Harper’s appealing tag-team, but also because of the winsome work of Bolger and Cavalero as the seemingly goofball, soon-to-be hitched duo. The movie is one of those rare outings that really does prick any smugness about its characters, but also has zero interest in creating baddies in order to keep a couple apart — or put them back together again. After all, most couples manage to pull off love’s pleasures and disasters on their own.
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