You know a genre that almost always has wonderfully strong writing but often is undermined due to the assumed “lowbrow” nature of it’s work? Romantic comedies. These films take on the perilous task of telling a story which is both emotionally engaging while also being funny and relatively lighthearted. In hopes to better the name of this tragically misunderstood genre, I’m going to reviewing a scene from one of the most memorable romantic comedies I’ve seen- The Break-Up.
Scene Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bqhVqTuFO4
Written By: Jeremy Garelick & Jay Lavender
Brooke and Gary have been dating for years, and have been living together for a while now.
- Brooke wants Gary to show that he cares about her.
- Gary doesn’t understand what Brooke is asking of him.
- Brooke comes home to find Gary on the couch, playing video games. She asks him to help do dishes, and he lamely says he’ll help after his game.
- She persists, asking for help. He says they can do them tomorrow. She voices her frustration, and he ignores her. Finally, seeing she’s not letting it go, he agrees to help.
- She rejects his help, saying he should do the dishes because he wants to, not because he’s forced to. He’s frustrated, doesn’t understand what he did wrong, and tells Brooke that she’s acting “crazy”.
- She further explains why she’s frustrated with him, pointing out that he didn’t bring home the right amount of lemons that she asked for. She continues, directly tells him that she wishes she didn’t have to ask him to do things that help her.
- Gary tries to lighten the mood and refers to the sex they had that morning. She rejects his advances, continues on, pointing out that he’s never bought her flowers, despite all the work she does for him.
- Gary recalls their first date, in which Brooke said she didn’t like flowers. Points out that she’s only getting more confusing. Brooke, more frustrated, voices how she’s upset that Gary doesn’t want to go to the ballet with her.
- Gary defends himself by proclaiming ballet as torturous. Brooke, realizing Gary still doesn’t get it, tells him how they don’t go anywhere together. Gary points out that they just went to a college football game together.
- Brooke, amazed, reveals that she hates going to those games, but goes for Gary’s sake. She asks what he’s done for her. In anger, he yells about how he works to support the pair of them. She reminds him that she also works, and enjoys her job.
- He continues, explaining that he just wants to come home from work without getting nagged. His rant explodes into him admitting that he just wants her to leave him alone.
- She explodes back, proclaiming that she deserves better. She storms out of the apartment, leaving Gary confused about what went wrong.
Why It Works:
Unexpected Honesty: This is a film about two people who turn their apartment into a literal battleground after their break-up. With this premise, we naturally expect a number of fun scenarios and, maybe, some lighthearted arguments. What we don’t expect is, in the first act, to be hit with a scene which everyone has either witnessed, or been apart of to some degree. The sheer level of miscommunication occurring through the scene imbues it with an unflinching honesty, and as the characters veer further and further away from reconciliation, it becomes clear that the comedic aspect of this scene no longer is meant to exist. Instead, we are left with something which is raw, real, and made incredibly more impactful with it’s tone-shifting placement.
Direct Use of Subtext: The key aspect of this scene lies in how it uses subtext in a manner which is direct without necessarily being overt. Though we’re afforded the knowledge that Brooke is upset with Gary before entering the scene, we’re able to learn, with Gary, exactly why she is upset through the numerous examples she brings forth. As it becomes strikingly clear that she’s irritated with Gary’s lack of appreciation for her, we, as an audience, become more understanding of her dilemma and, similarly, grow more resentful of the painfully clueless Gary.
Monologue vs. Monologue: Both characters are allowed a chance to get on their soapbox within the scene, allowing the audience a clear understanding of their mutual gripes with one another. By formatting the scene around their back-and-forth argument, the writers successfully give the viewers a chance to empathize and critique their two protagonists.
Built For Conflict: The scene does a wonderful job at building and building to it’s eventual climax. It accomplishes this through starting off with something relatively small, and allowing it to fester into something impossible to manage. It’s tragic to rewatch this and see how careless Gary is within the first beat, with no idea the true impact of his words on Brooke. His confusion spurs Brooke to bring up more and more examples, naturally prompting Gary to take exceedingly defensive stances, ultimately leading to the eruption at the end of the scene.
It takes a lot of confidence to pause the comedy in your for a stark, honest moment of reflection. It’s done here to great effect with the writers wonderfully pulling together a scene which, through subtext and character conflicts, is emotionally resonant for audience members.