What happens when a couple that’s been together for ten years decides to break up right before one of their sibling’s weddings? They pretend they didn’t and go celebrate together, a decision that predictably leads to awkwardness and discomfort.
Fortunately, that premise is made thoroughly enjoyable by writer-director Jeff Rosenberg and co-writer Laura Jacqmin in their new film We Broke Up, which debuts in theaters tomorrow. I got to speak with these two lifelong friends about their fantastic onscreen talent, working together, and whether their film really is a romantic comedy.
Q: You have two fantastic and recognizable actors as your leads whose most famous characters were key pieces of complicated relationships: Aya Cash, who played Gretchen on You’re the Worst and William Jackson Harper, who played Chidi on The Good Place. Do you think audiences will bring their preexisting familiarity with those characters into the experience of watching this film, and is that a good thing?
JR: I think it would be irresponsible if we didn’t assume that people will bring some expectation of, you know, basically shipping Gretchen and Chidi, and being like, how would that go? Look, I would 100% watch it, because I’m a fan of both shows. I worked on one of them. But ultimately I like to think that they’re both unique characters in their own way and they’re quite dissimilar from those two people. It is familiar actors in a relationship, which we’ve certainly seen. But I don’t think we’ve been able to see them as the leads of a romantic comedy.
LJ: Absolutely. It’s nice, because there are things that are a little bit sour about the movie, and things that are a little bit sweet. It’s very grounded character work. Both Will and Aya were excited to be like, oh wow, if I’m the center of a rom-com about a breakup, what does that look like, and how can I grow and stretch? They’re both so beloved and those characters are so beloved, so we’re grateful for it. We’re just excited to get to see these two people together.
Q: Were they the actors you always had in mind for these roles?
JR: With Lori, the moment our casting directors brought up Aya for it, and with her in mind, I threw on a You’re the Worst episode, and it was just absolute, immediate, yes, we need to offer Aya the part now. I might have checked with Laura first, I might not have. I might have been too excited. And then, as I said, I was assistant director on The Good Place, so I personally know Will. We’ve been talking about Will for the role for quite a while. Because I have a personal relationship with him, I didn’t want to tell him about it. I kept it quiet and didn’t bring it up to him until I was very confident that the movie was getting made. Between season three and four of The Good Place, it became very clear the movie was going to happen, at which point, instead of texting or calling Will, I waited until we were on set. I think it was like day three of season four. As he was walking back to his trailer, I pulled him aside and said, hey, I have a movie happening. Aya Cash is attached. I want you to play the other lead. The script is in your trailer. He was like, okay, cool. He wrote me the next weekend when he was actually able to read it and said, oh, you actually have a real movie and it’s fantastic. Yes, let’s figure out making this. From that point forward, there was no wavering, we never talked about anybody else from the moment both of them were attached. It was really just figuring out both of their busy schedules. At that point, Aya was just finishing up shooting on The Boys, and Will was going to start shooting on Underground Railroad. We just needed to find a window that worked for both of their schedules, and thankfully we did.
Q: Do you consider this film a romantic comedy? Even if you don’t, did you set out to make a romantic comedy?
JR: My answer is always bad for this. Go for it, Laura.
LJ: I like to call it a rom-com about a breakup. So it automatically gives you the idea that we’re going to be mixing tones here. Yes, there are elements of a rom-com, but it’s also a very grounded relationship story at the heart of it. No, I think we didn’t set out to make a rom-com. We both love rom-coms, by the way. I think it was about figuring out if there were components of those movies that we wanted to bring in here, and did we want to go along with those patterns, or were there things we wanted to subvert? Very early on, we were like, let’s not get locked in. Let’s just tell his honest story about a couple at a crossroads. The hijinks element of it is, of course, they’re at the sister’s wedding and they have to lie about it, they have to pretend to still be together. But we weren’t worried about hitting beats. We weren’t worried about hitting familiar rom-com tropes. We wanted to go with what felt naturally right with these characters and this story.
Q: And Jeff, what’s your terrible answer to this question?
JR: I just, I understand that a horror movie is a horror movie. My brain has never operated in genres. I want to tell the most honest story about the characters. Once you do that, I understand film marketing, I understand things get labeled in Redbox and that’s what happens. For me, it’s always just about what feels right with the characters. If that means there’s not a joke for five minutes, then there’s not a joke for five minutes. For me, I fully recognize that we’ve made a romantic comedy, and I’m okay with that. I always treated it more as a relationship movie.
Q: Do you feel that there are other films out there that do justice to the equality in a relationship, where you’re rooting for both people even if a breakup seems imminent?
JR: There weren’t that many, so that was part of the genesis of us working together on this project, the fact that we’ve both been in long-term relationships. My now-wife, at the time we started writing it, we weren’t married yet, and Laura’s been with her boyfriend now for fifteen years, and they are happily unmarried. We just sort of tackled the reality. We wanted it to feel equal. Most romantic comedies, there’s a villain in the story, and that was what we wanted to avoid. It was taking some of our favorite movies, Forgetting Sarah Marshall or All the Real Girls, or any of these movies, and as opposed to, somewhere in the late second act, realizing the other person really isn’t that bad, it’s what if they’re present throughout the movie. Again, I love those movies, but that was our take, and our way to sort of shift it and make it a little different.
LJ: Not centering one person in the relationship, but really centering both individuals and the relationship, so that you can kind of root for all three.
Q: I like that. I know that you two have been friends for a long time. How did that help or hurt this creative process?
LJ: Only help. It’s so weird. We talked about Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, they’ve known each other for forever. We’ve also known each other for forever. We very much came together in a playwriting class. Knew each other since middle school and started collaborating in high school. One of the reasons that we were drawn to working together was because we were pretty different people. I took myself too seriously, Jeff was the funny guy, and there was no connection between our friend groups. The fact that we were interested in different things – I wanted to be a very serious playwright, Jeff always knew he wanted to make movies – and because we’ve known each other for so long, I think we can be honest with each other in a way that there’s no ego involved. It meant that I was on set every day, we were making changes on the fly. If something wasn’t working, we always knew that we could turn to the other person, and I could be like, are we doing too many shots where this is happening? We’re ending a lot of scenes that way, is that okay? And he could say, the staging of this isn’t working, should we change something? We had that whole history to pull from.
Here’s the trailer for We Broke Up:
We Broke Up opens in select theaters on April 16th and on VOD and digital on April 23rd.