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“Breaking Upwards” and “The Greatest” Explore Young Love’s Doldrums

“Breaking Upwards” and “The Greatest” Explore Young Love’s Doldrums (photo)

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Now is the early spring of our discontent. Every year around this time, many of the films clotting theaters are the indies no one thinks will secure an Oscar nomination or the big-budget features studios don’t have the faith will score sweet summer box-office numbers. Admittedly, these movies can turn out to be real gems — ones that are too original to be reduced to the glib two-term descriptions (Vampire Juno! The Graduate 2!) that calm distributors down. But more often, cinematically speaking, April is the cruelest month.

Take “Breaking Upwards,” twentysomething director Daryl Wein’s ostensibly fictional feature about Daryl (Daryl Wein)’s codependent breakup with Zoe (Zoe Lister Jones, who cowrote and coproduced the film with — wait for it — Daryl). The meta-meta premise may sound sketchy, but its execution is far, far worse. Overprivileged and fearful, 23-year-olds Zoe and Daryl inhabit a West Village bubble financed by the sort of New York parents willing to finance their faux-grown up children’s love nests so long as they are also perpetually allowed to contribute their two cents.

The film begins with Daryl and Zoe knee-deep in a sexual act so lackluster that it not only alienates them from each other but also anyone remotely inclined to root for their relationship. In case we didn’t get it, the lousy sex is followed by a lousy breakfast, in which the two silently scan their phones while chewing their eggs with a mindless aggression bound to annoy the other. It should be a relief, then, when they sit down to chart their breakup — planning out which “days off” they will take from each other as they transition out of their bland little web — but even that conversation rankles. “We need to be together on Tuesday! That’s ‘Idol!’ ” they say as they high five.

Needless to say, the transition doesn’t go so smoothly, and both of them wrack up their fair share of hurt feelings while they overprocess not with their friends or siblings but with their parents and, worse, each other. Who are these overgrown kids, and why are we forced to watch their numbed-out, neurotic chit-chat? Perhaps their relationship should survive so that no one else — including us — is subjected to their glib whistling in the dark. As Cusack says in “High Fidelity,” another mediocre breakup movie: “Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at the age of 26.” In this plodding, plotting gimmick of a film, only Pablo Schreiber, as Zoe’s loutish rebound, and the rarely seen Andrea Martin, as Zoe’s oversharing mom, come off smelling like a rose.

03312010_TheGreatest1.jpgLike “Breaking Upwards,” “The Greatest” begins with an uncomfortably tight shot of young Bennett and Rose having sex. (Note to filmmakers: start elsewhere!) Just as we’re realizing it’s the 18-year-olds’ first time and that they’re in the throes of true love, we cut to a truck ramming into their car and then, just as quickly, to a hearse in which Bennett’s parents (Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon) and brother (Johnny Simmons) sit in a silence so long and remarkable that it hints at what writer/director Shana Feste may be someday capable of sustaining. Just not yet.

To her credit, she does let the actors do their thing. Sarandon wrenches every living inch out of a woman so undone by grief that she doesn’t mind letting her husband and remaining son know that she just lost the only man that mattered to her, and, as her shell-shocked, formerly philandering husband, Brosnan’s usually hawkish manner is replaced by worried, rapidly blinking eyes and a slight stammer that doesn’t seem affected. Carey Mulligan (“An Education”) is as overly precious as ever, however, as Bennett’s girlfriend who postpones her Barnard scholarship to have her dead first lover’s baby. To be fair, she’s saddled with a setup that would sink far more genuine actresses than she.

And that’s the problem with this script, which forces its agenda with every clunky step. It’s not enough that Rose comes from an impoverished background; she has a con-artist of a mom who wobbles in and out of rehab. Just as one character suffers a potential heart attack, another falls off the wagon. And needless to say, Rose’s water breaks just when the family stages a massive confrontation with her at the roadside location of their son’s death. Enough.

03312010_TheGreatest4.jpgIn the press notes, Feste bemoans the dearth of films about families grappling with the loss of a child. It’s such a poorly researched assertion (one that an elementary Google search would have nipped in the bud) that it suggests she may not have watched enough films to make one of her own — a fact that this paint-by-numbers first feature, alas, bears out. Although she shows real talent in visually capturing the small, wicked failures of people facing their hardest moments, in her next project, she may be better off directing other people’s material or, realistically, directing for TV rather than film.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.