In its very simplest form, a romantic comedy should ideally be at least one of two things: funny and romantic. It’s obviously better if they’re both and have leads with chemistry, a great script, and a perfect kiss. But if we’re talking bare minimums, funny and/or romantic is pretty much where it’s at. The fatal flaw of We Broke Up is that it’s somehow neither. It feels as though it wants to have a quirky sense of humor but would probably work much better as a drama about a long-term relationship between two people who fundamentally have no business being together. Tonally, We Broke Up is all over the place and never quite finds a balance.
Doug (William Jackson Harper) and Lori (Aya Cash) have been in a relationship for ten years. But on the eve of Lori’s sister Bea’s sudden wedding to a man she’s known for mere weeks, Doug proposes, Lori vomits in response, and their relationship crumbles. Doug can’t fathom continuing to date with marriage as the ultimate goal, and Lory has no interest in upending their relationship dynamic with a wedding. So they’re at an impasse. And they break up. But there’s just one problem: they still have to go to Bea’s wedding. Rather than answer many upsetting questions and steal attention from Bea and her fiance Jayson, they decide to hide their breakup until after the wedding. How hard could it be?
This entire setup has comedy written all over it — only it isn’t actually funny, like, at all. It has some fairly expansive comedy set pieces that are enjoyable, such as the chaotic, hyper-competitive Paul Bunyan game played by the wedding party, pitting the bride against the groom, but they never manage to be more than lightly, generically amusing. The whole production is actually really sad! There are no quirky shenanigans that force the exes into situations that remind them how much they love one another. It’s just two dead-eyed ex-lovers sleepwalking through a wedding weekend and trying not to let their abject misery seep into the groundwater and poison everyone else. They’ve been together for over a decade, after all, and the loss of their relationship is a massive gaping hole in each of their lives. Neither knows how to be without the other. If We Broke Up had been presented as a bittersweet drama about the death of a relationship, that might have been one thing. But the tone here suggests a totally different movie, and the disconnect is jarring.
But even if that were the case, it wouldn’t fix everything. We also have to contend with the two utter vacuums that are Doug and Lori. Harper is usually a delight, but he’s given almost nothing to work with here, and Cash fares even worse. Nothing is interesting or character-defining about either of them and at no point do they come close to an actual personality trait beyond, “wants to be married, “does not want to be married,” or “openly resentful.” They seem annoyed not just by each other but by everyone around them. It makes you begin to wonder why they were ever together in the first place, but more than that, why anyone thought it would be a good idea to center a film around these two non-characters.
The shining lights of We Broke Up are unquestionably the bride and groom, Lori’s sister Bea and her bro-ey but weirdly together fiancee. They are kind and generous and loving, not just to each other but to everyone in the film, and whenever they turn up on screen, they bring a delightful energy that is otherwise sorely missing. Honestly, they deserve their own movie. Bea deserves justice for her adorable scrunchie business — they’re all openly contemptuous of her business plan, but our girl is an influencer and an entrepreneur and too good for basically everyone at this wedding.
There are genuine moments of catharsis in the film. The realization that sometimes relationships end and people can still care for one another but not have a future together is a powerful one. But those moments are too rare, even in a film with as short a runtime as We Broke Up. Its talented lead actors are wasted in roles with no charisma or personality, and it can never quite decide what kind of movie it wants to be. A shame, too, because there’s always room for another “pretend to be in a relationship at a wedding” trope in the rom-com pantheon.