Review: ‘We Broke Up,’ starring William Jackson Harper and Aya Cash

April 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Aya Cash and William Jackson Harper in “We Broke Up” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“We Broke Up”

Directed by Jeff Rosenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, romantic comedy “We Broke Up” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A live-in couple in their early 30s, who have been together for 10 years, break up the day before they travel to her sister’s wedding and decide to keep their break-up a secret until after the wedding. 

Culture Audience: “We Broke Up” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching lightweight, escapist entertainment about the ups and downs of romantic relationships.

Sarah Bolger and Tony Cavalero in “We Broke Up” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

It might be enough to make some people cringe that “We Broke Up” takes place mostly around a wedding, because weddings are an over-used plot device for romantic comedies. “We Broke Up” is not as cliché-ridden as it could have been, but it’s not a particularly imaginative movie either. What makes the film worth watching are the lead actors’ mostly believable and relatable performances.

Directed by Jeff Rosenberg (who co-wrote the screenplay with Laura Jacqmin), “We Broke Up” starts off with the breakup that’s in the movie’s title. Lori (played by Aya Cash) and Doug (played by William Jackson Harper), who are both in their early 30s, live together in an unnamed U.S. city and have been a couple for 10 years. Lori is a barista in a coffee shop, while Doug’s job isn’t mentioned in the movie but it’s implied that he makes more money than Lori does.

In the beginning of the movie, Lori and Doug are waiting for their takeout order at a restaurant and are acting slightly goofy with each other. As they’re waiting, Doug blurts out to Lori: “Marry me.” Her response is to vomit on his shoes. The next thing viewers see are Doug and Lori sitting stone-faced in their car and not saying anything to each other. Lori looks as if she’s been crying.

What did they say to each other after Lori vomited on Doug? That conversation is revealed later in the movie, but viewers next find out that Doug broke up with Lori because she said no to his marriage proposal. The timing couldn’t be worse, because the next day, Doug and Lori are supposed to go on a road trip to attend the wedding of Lori’s younger sister Bea (played by Sarah Bolger), and Doug is supposed to be one of the groomsmen at the wedding.

Lori assumes that Doug won’t be going to the wedding because of the breakup. But he insists on going because he feels obligated. For whatever reason, Doug calls himself “the king of the ushers” for the wedding. After some back-and-forth arguing, Lori agrees to go with Doug to the wedding. But she’s still reeling from the breakup and she makes a compromise with Doug that he can go to the wedding if they don’t tell anyone about the breakup until after the wedding. The wedding is taking place on a weekend, so Lori and Doug have three days to keep their breakup a secret.

Bea and her fiancé Jayson (played by Tony Cavalero) got engaged after knowing each other for only one month. Bea is in her early 20s, and Jayson (who’s about 15 years older than Bea) is a divorced dad with a young son, who is not at the wedding. Jayson (who’s an overgrown man-child and somewhat dimwitted) and Bea (who’s flaky and fickle) have the type of touch-feely giddiness with each other where they seem very much in love, but the people close to them have doubts that the relationship will last.

One of those doubters is Bea and Lori’s divorced mother Adelaide (played by Peri Gilpin), who disapproves of Bea and Jayson getting married because Adelaide thinks the marriage will be a mistake. But there’s nothing she can do to stop Bea and Jayson, so Adelaide is attending the wedding. Based on the interactions that Adelaide has with her two daughters, Lori is the one whom Adelaide has more respect for because she thinks that Lori is a more stable person than Bea.

Adelaide also approves of Lori and Doug being together—so much so, that Adelaide calls Lori and Doug her “favorite couple.” She’s elated to see Lori and Doug when they arrive at the Arrowhead Pines Lodge, where the wedding will be taking place. The lodge used to be a summer camp where Bea and Lori would go when they were children. In a meeting with the lodge’s event planner, Bea comments, “What is more fun than getting married at the place where you got your first period?”

Right away, the typical rom-com uncomfortable situations begin. Lori doesn’t want to stay in the same room as Doug, but all the rooms in the main part of the lodge are booked up. The front-desk clerk named Mike (played by Eduardo Franco) also tells them that there are no rooms available with separate beds, but a distant part of the lodge has a room available with a bunk bed. Mike says it will take a couple of hours to change Doug and Lori’s reservation, but when Jayson hears that Doug and Lori want to get a different room, he slips a bribe to Mike to speed up the process.

There’s a long stretch of “We Broke Up” that drags in the lead-up to the wedding. During the wedding rehearsal dinner, Doug makes a toast to the future bride and groom, by giving an emotionally moving and humorous speech about the first time that he met Bea. It was shortly after Doug and Lori began dating.

Bea was a middle schooler and drunk when she crashed her sled into a birdbath. Bea had to go to a hospital emergency room, and Doug and Lori spent time getting to know each other better while the two were in the waiting room at the hospital. In his speech, Doug mentions that this was a turning point in his relationship with Lori, when he knew that he felt like he could be a part of their family.

Bea and Jayson are very immature, and they have their wedding guests participate in a summer camp games that kids would play—except there’s heavy alcohol drinking and some marijuana edibles involved in this partying. The least interesting parts of “We Broke Up” are the scenes where the wedding party guests who are in their 20s and 30s play a game called Paul Bunyan Day. The Paul Bunyan Day scenes seem like a lot of filler.

The guests are divided into two mixed-gender teams: Team Babe (which wears blue) and Team Lumberjack (which wears red), and each team has to perform a set of challenges after chugging alcohol before each challenge. There are 11 golden axes that are hidden as part of the game. The object of the game is to be the team to collect the most golden axes. When people get drunk or stoned in a romantic comedy, that just means some silly hijinks will ensue.

Jayson’s best man is a neurotic named Ari (played by Kobi Libii) and the movie makes some bland jokes made about Ari being Jewish. For example, there’s a scene where Ari asks Doug which yarmulke he should wear at the wedding. He has a choice of five yarmulkes and can’t decide which one to wear, so he he repetitively analyzes each one. It’s a joke that falls flat.

Bea is the type of person who has a short attention span when it comes to deciding on a career. Her latest idea is to start a bespoke scrunchie business. The jokes should write themselves with that idea, but the movie doesn’t explore this comedic angle for enough laughs.

Jasyon has a co-worker named Roya (played by Azita Ghanizada), who lives in San Francisco. Roya has a British accent, she’s intelligent, and when she and Doug meet, they have come possible romantic sparks between them. Later, they spend some time alone and the movie shows whether or not Doug and Roya will act on this attraction.

Meanwhile, a good-looking guy named Eric (played by Zak Steiner), who is one of Bea’s former classmates from high school, is a wedding guest. Eric makes it clear as soon as he sees Lori that he’s romantically interested in Lori. Considering that Lori and Doug are no longer together but have to pretend to be a couple to everyone else, it’s easy to guess how the movie will make a potentially new love interest an extra complication for Lori and Doug.

The plot for “We Broke Up” isn’t as simple as Doug and Lori trying to keep their breakup a secret. There are two plot twists (one is more predictable than the other) that are fueled by insecurities when it comes to love. Observant viewers will notice that there’s an unspoken sibling rivalry between Lori and Bea. Lori might be feeling envious that her younger sister is in a happy romance, while Bea might be feeling envious that Lori seems to have the “perfect” relationship with Doug.

Some of what happens during these three days seems contrived for a movie, but the scenarios aren’t entirely far-fetched. Bea and Jayson are almost cartoon-like, but Lori and Doug are a more realistic couple, in terms of their relationship and how they deal with their problems. There are hints that the divorce of Lori and Bea’s parents (their father abandoned the family) has affected Lori and Bea in different ways. Lori is suspicious of marriage (which is why she said no to Doug’s proposal), while Bea is the type who falls in love quickly and has a tendency to bail on relationships if she thinks they’re too much hard work.

“We Broke Up” works the best when it shows the dynamics between Lori and Doug, because what happens to them during this wedding weekend is at the heart of the story. As Doug and Lori, Harper and Cash give very watchable and interesting performances. Despite some parts of the movie that are a little boring, the last third of the film is the best part, because it’s about reconciling people’s expectations of a relationship with the reality of what’s best for the individuals in the relationship.

Vertical Entertainment released “We Broke Up” in select U.S. cinemas on April 16, 2021, and on digital and VOD on April 23, 2021.

Review: ‘End of Sentence,’ starring John Hawkes and Logan Lerman

May 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

John Hawkes and Logan Lerman in “End of Sentence” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“End of Sentence”

Directed by Elfar Adalsteins

Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and briefly in Alabama, the drama “End of Sentence” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After his wife dies, a father tries to reconnect with his estranged ex-convict son, as they travel to Ireland to spread her ashes for her last dying wish.

Culture Audience: “End of Sentence” will appeal primarily to people who like emotionally authentic dramas about difficult family relationships.

John Hawkes and Sarah Bolger in “End of Sentence” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“End of Sentence” is one of those movies that has a unique family story to tell, but so much of the story is universally relatable to people, regardless of what kind of families they have. There are multiple layers to the relationship between the father and son at the center of the story—and that’s why “End of Sentence” should not be considered just another road-trip movie.

The story begins in Alabama, where American salesman Frank Fogle (played by John Hawkes) and his Irish-born wife Anna Fogle (played by Andrea Irvine) are visiting their only child, Sean Fogle (played by Logan Lerman), in Alabama Correctional Facility, where Sean has been locked up for auto theft. Anna is wearing a head scarf, which a prison employee tells her to remove due to prison rules. It’s obvious that she’s bald underneath the scarf, and she removes it with some self-conscious hesitation.

When Anna and Frank meet with Sean in the prison, Anna’s words to Sean confirm that she does have a terminal illness, when she says to Sean, “I’ve come to say goodbye.” Sean seems to be a hardened criminal, but he does show some affection when his mother hugs him. However, Sean’s demeanor toward his father very cold and detached.

The next time that Frank sees Sean again, it’s the day that Sean has been released from prison. Frank is now a widower, but the loss of his wife hasn’t brought this father and son closer together. In fact, when Frank shows up to give Sean a ride, Sean is so angry and dismissive toward Frank, that Sean tosses aside a sack of new clothes that Frank brought to him, by throwing the clothes in a nearby garbage can.

Sean also refuses to get in Frank’s car. But before Sean drives off with a police officer who gives him a ride, Frank tells Sean that it was Anna’s dying wish that Frank and Sean take a road trip together to spread her ashes out on a lake in Ireland. Andrea also has some property in Ireland that she left to Sean in her will, and Frank wants Sean to view the property in order to decide to keep it or sell it. However, Sean flat-out refuses to take the trip.

Frank and Anna seem like kind-hearted and compassionate people who tried to raise their son the right way. Why is Sean so ill-tempered and disrespectful to his father? That answer is revealed later in the film, when Sean and Frank are on their trip in Ireland.

Sean changed his mind about going on the trip because after getting out of prison, he found it difficult to find a job due to his prison record. However, through a prison-release program, Sean did get a job offer to start work at an electronics warehouse—but it’s in Oakland, California, and Sean needs financial help from his father to move there. And that’s why Sean reluctantly decided to go on the trip with Frank. But they’re under a time crunch, because Sean has to start this new job in five days, or else the job will be given to someone else.

When they arrive in Ireland, Frank and Sean go to a car rental place, where they’re attended to by a female clerk. And it isn’t long before their opposite personalities begin to clash. When they’re in the car, Frank chastises Sean for staring at the female clerk’s breasts while she was helping them. Frank tells Sean: “You should show respect to give respect. I should know—I’ve been in sales all of my life.”

This lecture sets off Sean, who’s been simmering with anger toward his father, to verbally lash out at Frank. Sean tells Frank that he shouldn’t talk about respect because Frank let himself be bullied by his own father, who was an abusive alcoholic. Sean lets Frank know that he doesn’t respect Frank for how Frank let his own father mistreat him and others.

It’s revealed later that there’s more to this story of why Sean is so resentful toward Frank: Frank’s father used Sean as a “human ashtray,” by putting lit cigarettes out his skin, when Sean was a child and alone with his paternal grandfather. Frank found out, and Sean is still very angry over how Frank handled everything. The details of Frank’s reaction to this child abuse are revealed further in the story.

Even without this child abuse in Sean’s background, it’s very clear how dissimilar Frank and Sean are to each other when it comes to dealing with life. Frank is very calm, non-confrontational and doesn’t like taking risks. Sean is quick-tempered, tends to pick fights and is a big risk-taker.

For example, when they’re eating together at a diner, they both order hamburgers, but Frank was served a hamburger that was different than what he ordered. Sean tells Frank to berate the server and demand to get the hamburger that he ordered, but Frank refuses, and instead removes some of the unwanted ingredients from the hamburger and eats it without a fuss.

To make matters even more tension-filled, Frank and Sean have to share a hotel room together (with separate beds), which isn’t an ideal situation, but it’s an indication that they’re on a limited budget. Meanwhile, Frank tells Sean something that Sean doesn’t really want to hear: While they’re in Ireland, they have to attend an Irish wake for Andrea.

The wake (which is held at the bar of the hotel where Frank and Sean are staying) is attended by her family members who could not go to the Andrea’s funeral in America. Sean feels out-of-place because it’s his first time in Ireland, and he doesn’t know anyone there besides his father. But at the bar counter, he notices a pretty blonde sitting by herself. They look at each other in a way that people do in movies where you know that these two are going to hook up later.

Meanwhile, a grieving Frank is surprised to find out at the wake that Andrea had an ex-boyfriend in Ireland whom she ran off with during a rebellious time in her life, before she met Frank. The ex-boyfriend’s name is Ronan Quinn, and Frank is told that Ronan’s family owns a horse-breeding farm. An old Polaroid photograph that Frank sees at the wake shows Ronan and Andrea on Ronan’s motorcycle.

This photograph, combined with the realization that he didn’t know as much about Andrea’s past as he thought he did, triggers Frank to find out more about Ronan. The movie veers into this subplot for a while, but it doesn’t lose focus from the real story, which is how this trip is going to affect Frank and Sean’s relationship.

After the wake, Frank and Sean go back to their hotel room where Frank is ready to go to sleep. But Sean is feeling restless and irritated, so he heads back to the hotel bar. The blonde who locked eyes with him earlier is still there by herself, so Sean goes up and introduces himself to her. She says her name is Jewel.

It isn’t long before Sean and Jewel have a somewhat flirtatious conversation. He tells her why he’s in Ireland, while she confesses that she’s just left a physically abusive boyfriend and she’s now homeless and trying to figure out what to do next. Therefore, it’s not much of a surprise that these troubled and lonely people end up making out in the back seat of Frank and Sean’s rental car.

But before things get too intense, a drunk Sean vomits outside the car, thereby ruining the sexy mood of the encounter. An embarrassed Sean tells Jewel that she can leave if she wants, but she decides to stay. They spend the night together in the car.

The next morning, Frank sees that Sean has spent the night in the back of the car with a woman who’s basically a stranger. Some awkward introductions are made, and Sean asks Frank (who’s the authorized driver for the car rental) if they can give Jewel a ride to where she need to go. Frank refuses because he doesn’t want to violate the car policy of picking up hitchhikers.

But when Frank has trouble starting the car, and Jewel (who says she knows cars because her father’s a mechanic) easily fixes the problem, it’s not a surprise that Frank relents, and Jewel is now along for the ride. The rest of the movie takes a few twists and turns (some more predictable than others) in showing how this decision affects the rest of their journey.

One of the best things about “End of Sentence” (which was written by Michael Armbruster) is that it avoids the pitfalls of many road-trip movies that overstuff the story with a lot of wacky characters and over-the-top situations. Everything that happens in “End of Sentence” is entirely believable, which makes the human emotions in the story even more poignant. The movie doesn’t feel overly scripted, because not every moment in the movie serves a big purpose the way that some movies cynically set up a scene purely for melodrama.

Hawkes and Lerman give commendable performances as this estranged father and son trying to find some of peace of mind while navigating the tensions of their relationship. Hawkes is a terrific character actor who doesn’t need a flashy role to show how talented he is. The way that he expresses the essence of Frank Fogle through his eyes and body language speak volumes more than what a lot of dialogue might convey. Lerman also skillfully handles the more complicated character of Sean, who might seem like a person who’s always angry at the world, but Sean’s relationship with Jewel reveals a vulnerable side to him that makes it clear that his anger masks deep-rooted insecurities.

And who is this mysterious Jewel? The movie shows more details about her and how her presence affects the relationship between Frank and Sean. There’s a scene in the movie where Jewel, Frank, and Sean are all seated at the same table at a restaurant/bar. Jewel comforts Frank, who’s feeling insecure about wondering that his late wife Anna’s relationship was like with her ex-boyfriend Ronan. Jewel tells Frank, “We might go on rides with rebels, but it’s the kind-hearted ones we spend our lives with.”

The look on Sean’s face and what happens afterward tell a lot about how Sean feels about himself compared to his father. It’s one of the reasons why “End of Sentence” is so good at revealing layers to the story, instead of throwing it all at viewers in an obvious way. The title of the film could refer to the end of Sean’s prison sentence, but it’s also clear that the real prison sentence in this story is holding on to anger and resentment that can poison a relationship with a loved one.

Gravitas Ventures released “End of Sentence” on digital and VOD on May 29, 2020.

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