Breaking up is never hard to do in Hollywood. Movies and TV shows are full of characters going through breakups of all sorts. Here are some examples we here at The Jimbo List find particularly memorable.
Full disclosure: this scene from Louis C.K.’s brilliant TV show is the inspiration for today’s List. Like everything else in the series, it’s original and realistically off-kilter. Louie and his not-really-a-girlfriend April break up almost by osmosis. She has to do all the talking, putting into words all the complicated feelings Louie has but can’t say. This guy is a genius.
ANNIE HALL (1977)
Let’s proceed to another New York City genius, Woody Allen. His films are brimming with breakups, plus a line about them that will live on forever in film history. In “Annie Hall,” he says that a relationship is like a shark. It has to keep moving forward in order to survive. “I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark,” he tells Diane Keaton.
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (2008)
I’m not certain about this, but I’m guessing Jason Segel is the first guy to do a movie breakup scene with full-frontal male nudity. Daring, but also smart. His character, who is getting dumped by Kristen Bell, is naked in every way.
WAITING TO EXHALE (1995)
Angela Bassett shows us the only thing you can do in a movie when your husband leaves you for another woman: you blow up his car. That way, there’s no ambiguity about the breakup.
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
This Oscar winner for Best Picture is a perfect example of the kind of stoic, do-what-you-have-to-do spirit that was such a part of American life – even in breakups. Dana Andrews is a returning World War II veteran with a menial job and a cheating wife. Then he meets Teresa Wright, the daughter of another veteran. They fall in love, but the father tells Andrews to do the right thing and leave his daughter alone. And that’s what he does, in a terse, no-whining breakup scene.
“Seinfeld” featured many great breakups during its run, but my fave is when Gwen dumps poor George with the line, “It’s not you, it’s me.” This infuriates George, not because he got dumped, but because he insists he “invented” the it’s-not-you-it’s-me strategy.
THE FOOT FIST WAY (2006)
Not many people have seen “The Foot Fist Way.” It’s a weird, weird film, but features a fearless performance by the hilarious Danny McBride. He’s a martial arts instructor with a whole mess of problems. In one scene, his unfaithful wife asks him to take her back. He responds by urinating on his wedding ring.
KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979)
Is it any surprise that Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep have one of the most painful, incredible breakup scenes of all time? Every one of their scenes together in “Kramer vs. Kramer” is amazing. Here, Streep’s nerves, determination and fear are all right on the surface, as are Hoffman’s initial arrogance, denial and frustration.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)
Aptly, this movie’s take on the oddly anti-social underpinnings of Facebook begins with an Aaron Sorkin verbal assault of a breakup. Rooney Mara and Jesse Eisenberg are terrific handling Sorkin’s intricate dialogue. It’s like watching a prizefight.
Let’s not forget the other “Network,” while we’re at it. William Holden is a network news exec who leaves his wife for Faye Dunaway, a ruthless network programming exec. When he gets fed up with Dunaway, he tells her she’s “television incarnate, indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy.” That sort of line was devastating in the ’70s.
500 DAYS OF SUMMER (2009)
It was fun while it lasted, but eventually Zooey Deschanel has to lower the boom on Joseph Gordon-Levitt. She does it by invoking doomed punk rock couple Sid and Nancy. Gordon-Levitt is stunned to learn that he’s Nancy. Yikes.
SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993)
Meg Ryan was the queen of the amicable movie breakup, wasn’t she? Here, and in “You’ve Got Mail,” she calmly, earnestly sits the guy down and explains that the organization has decided to make a change. Bill Pullman is the target in “Sleepless,” and he reacts with a sad dignity. But hey – she’s got to get to the Empire State Building, pronto.
“Closer” is like a sampler of breakup scenes. The whole cast – Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen – gets at least one good breakup to chew on during the proceedings. Director Mike Nichols has covered some of this bitter relationship territory before, in classics such as “Carnal Knowledge” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” This one isn’t quite in the same league with those.
To me, the scene where Woody Allen ends his relationship with young Mariel Hemingway is utterly heartbreaking. It’s a decidedly creepy relationship to begin with, of course. But Hemingway’s tears, and her quiet pain, are deeply moving.
GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
Best breakup scene. Best breakup line. It comes at the end of a long, eventful story, but it’s worth the wait. People have been quoting it, and Clark Gable’s delivery of it, for more than 70 years.
I know there are plenty of other good examples out there. Which ones are your favorites?