Review by Jacquelin Hipes
Eleanor (Helen Hunt) and Adam Weller (Tony Shalhoub) have just finalized their divorce, a proceeding they’ve managed to keep civil…mostly. While Adam turns to the comforts of his mistress—the most recent in a very long string—Eleanor faces the prospect of starting over at a point in life she thought to be completely settled. Yet in spite of his braggadocio, her ex-husband stares down an uncertain future of his own. A renowned playwright, Adam hasn’t produced a hit in nearly a decade, limping along from revival to revival staging as he waits for inspiration to strike. Opportunity presents itself upon the death of an old friend and fellow writer, whose widow discovers an unpublished manuscript boxed away.
Meanwhile, Eleanor has found support in Paul (Alfred Molina), her ex’s brother. A long-ago crush rears up again once Paul acknowledges that they are both single again after decades of marriage. His affections complicate Eleanor’s attempts to rediscover her independence; torn between self-sufficiency and familiarity, she settles into a kind of loving ambivalence when they do embark on a relationship.
Adam and Eleanor’s only child also suffers from the foibles of love. Maud (Cristin Milioti) remains on good terms with both of her parents and visits them both. One suspects she might relish the visits to her father’s apartment more, where a handsome and quiet handyman named Sam (Omar Metwally) has caught her eye. When he reluctantly accepts her invitation to dinner, Maud takes full advantage of his moment of courtesy. Even after the pair divulge their brushes with depression—a reasonable excuse to step back, or at least slow things down—they plunge forward, invigorated by mutual attraction.
For a film that centers around emotional honesty—how the lies we tell ourselves and others can have devastating consequences—Breakable You has a surprising lack of heart. Like one of Adam’s plays, it skims the surface of personal, human conflict. Countless people face the matters at hand every day, yet very few (or none) of them stay so articulate, so put-together through the emotional wringer. This is style without much substance, finding an end to the drama thanks to runtime instead of the resolution of anyone’s struggles.
Hunter and Shalhoub both issue performances above the material given to them. Eleanor may be a familiar role to Hunt—the “warm but slightly harried mother” has shades of Elasti-Girl to her—but that isn’t a drawback here. Shalhoub plays a great schmuck and clearly had a bit of fun in some of his more condescending scenes. Milioti and Metwally don’t fare as well, unfortunately, mostly thanks to a storyline that fails to engage as much as either parent’s does.
Breakable You dabbles in some grand ideas about love, family, and the importance of being honest with oneself. Grand ideas are usually the messiest ones, though, and Breakable You is too hesitant to get its hands dirty for any of the messages to stick.
BREAKABLE YOU, available on Digital March 13 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.