Breaking Up

on October 17, 1997 by Ian Hodder
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Steve and Monica fall into a love so fulfilling that he stops smoking and she no longer watches her weight. But wait a minute: If this relationship is so great, why is Steve ("L.A. Confidential's" Russell Crowe) gasping for air and Monica ("Fools Rush In's" Salma Hayek) feeling so burdened? Therein lies the contradiction that comprises "Breaking Up," the story of an affair that--depending on the hour--is so perfect it's doomed or so terrible it works. Or, as Monica says, "It's a failure, but it's ours."
Written by Michael Cristofer ("The Witches of Eastwick"), "Breaking Up" is constructed like a patchwork quilt, with a variety of vignettes sewn together into a multi-textured conglomerate of ideas and emotions. Some scenes are pithy monologues in which a character discusses Freud directly with the audience. In others, notably a funny segment at Monica's gym, the movie evokes sketch comedy found on late-night TV. Director Robert Greenwald is adept with each of his film's ambiances and able to bundle diverse scenes into a continuous story. Overall, he employs tight shots and cramped sets to create a sense of claustrophobia that reflects Steve and Monica's relationship as it progresses through several years of break-ups and make-ups.
In addition, Steve, a photographer, and Monica, a teacher, are "Breaking Up's" only characters, which means Crowe and Hayek must double-handedly carry the entire film. For the most part, they're up to the task. From the moment Steve meets Monica, the pair's attraction seems genuine, and both characters conduct themselves like real people, even when their dialogue suggests acting more than living. This New Regency acquisition is a good movie, but it doesn't have enough zingy lines or story innovations to rise above the level of prototypical romantic comedy. Steve and Monica can't live with or without each other, but moviegoers in search of chuckles and romantic insight can take or leave this cinematic coupling. Starring Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek. Directed by Robert Greenwald. Written by Michael Cristofer. Produced by Robert Greenwald and George Moffly. A Warner Bros. release. Romantic comedy. Rated R for language and sexuality. Running time: 89 min. Screened at the Seattle fest.
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