Review: ‘Breakup Season’ is “as honest and hopeful as the great romantic dramedies of yesteryear”

Relationships are hard and sometimes ending them is even harder. And as Breakup Season, the new indie feature from writer/director H. Nelson Tracey illustrates, there’s never really a right time to say goodbye.

Breakup Season, which just had its world premiere at Desertscape International Film Festival in St. George, Utah is a sweet and honest look into a breakup and its immediate fallout. The film focuses on Ben (The Walking Dead’s Chandler Riggs) and Cassie (Captain Fantastic’s Samantha Isler) as they head to Ben’s family’s home in rural Oregon for Christmas.

While the two initially seem to have a pleasant relationship, it becomes clear rather quickly that Cassie feels one way about the relationship while Ben feels another. Miscues and miscommunications both on-screen and hinted at across their relationship’s past culminate in Cassie telling Ben that she thinks it’s best if the two break up and she heads home the next day.

Unfortunately for Cassie, a snowstorm and road blockages prevent her from being able to leave and she must endure the rest of the Christmas week with her now ex-boyfriend and his family.

As the week goes on, Ben tries to find ways to mend things and close the distance between them as Cassie’s resolve only strengthens. It’s a back-and-forth written with enough tact and wit to where neither Ben nor Cassie come off as right or wrong, but rather two equal sides of a relationship that has ended.

But Breakup Season isn’t just about Cassie and Ben’s relationship. Tracey deftly plays the struggles of their relationship against the relationships that surround them for the week.

Also home for the holidays is Ben’s mother Mia (Brook Hogan) and father Kirby (James Urbaniak, Venture Bros, Oppenheimer) whose sweet relationship poses a stark contrast to the distance that has developed between Ben and Cassie. Hogan and Urbaniak give warm and gentle performances here, consoling their son while also being a willing listener for Cassie. As they talk about and interact with each other, Cassie and Ben see the similarities and differences in their relationship.

Also struggling with their individual romantic pasts and presents are Ben’s siblings – Liz (Carly Stewart) is in a relationship that feels stuck, and older brother Gordon (Jacob Wysocki) is back home after his marriage fell apart. Their respective optimism and pessimism about love wage a tug of war on Ben and Cassie as the events of the week push Ben to want to mend things and cause Cassie to want to push further away.

The performances here are wonderful from the entire ensemble. Riggs gives an emotionally vulnerable performance as Ben, and Isler is fantastic as Cassie. The real standout is Urbaniak whose performance is as humorous as it is warm and gentle as a father just trying to do his best to help his kids through these difficult life experiences of love and loss.

Two of the film’s best scenes involve quiet moments with Urbaniak and his on-screen kids – one where Kirby takes Ben for a walk to help him grapple with his life situation, or another when Kirby takes a moment to talk to Gordon in the cold of the night. Both of them find Urbaniak with his great sense of humor still showing through a tender conversation with a father.

Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is in its writing. In a subgenre that is so often held back by convention, Tracey’s script lets these characters struggle with themselves and each other. These internal and external turmoils about their positions in life and love lead to real, organic emotional moments where these characters get to use their differences with each other to find common ground and come together.

The script never makes the mistake of giving us a character that feels pre-packaged. Every one of them feels organic to the point that the film’s conclusion never seems to be set in stone. Anything feels like it can happen because Tracey has created such real and vulnerable characters that seem to live and breathe on screen.

As the film draws towards its conclusion, Tracey sometimes fakes left to go right, making the correct decision every single time with his characters. It flows effortlessly towards its final poignant moments, giving a finale that is as honest and hopeful as some of the great romantic dramedies of yesteryear and makes this one that is destined to become a favorite in line with classics like (500) Days of Summer.

With a debut as strong and self-assured as Breakup Season, one would be quick to ask what future films will bring from Tracey. This reviewer, for one, is excited to see what is next because if it’s half as good as this one, we are in for a treat.

To listen to an interview with writer/director H. Nelson Tracey and star James Urbaniak, check out this episode of The Cinemast Podcast!


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