Review: ‘The Big Split’

A romantic comedy with a clever spin, "The Big Split" is an appealing charmer that makes light of hasty weddings and hastier divorces.

A romantic comedy with a clever spin, “The Big Split” is an appealing charmer that makes light of hasty weddings and hastier divorces. Unlike higher-profile and costlier projects that promise tingly feelings but don’t deliver, “Split” benefits greatly from sincere chemistry, genuinely funny moments and a screenplay that sounds like real life. Auds up for gentle sentiments and some spiked jabs at the dating game will find plenty of both, but it’s a stretch to think that the microbudgeted, starless story will score at the B.O. — if and when it finds a distrib.

“Split” puts a relationship in reverse, tagging along with two people who walk down the aisle, separate and then rediscover each other’s allure. Director-writer Martin Hynes gives a winning turn as an amiable schlemiel who is smitten with the right girl at the wrong time, and, as his sweetheart, Judy Greer is delightfully daffy. Their connection goes a long way toward establishing this as more than just another yuppy-something whinefest.

Hynes is Frank, a wanna-be composer who pays the bills as a driving instructor. Greer is Tracy, a documentarian from New York who learns to drive from Frank and marries him after a brief courtship, much to the surprise of their engaged friends (Darryl McCane and Rachel True).

The union gets off to a rocky start when Frank refuses to dance at the reception, but Tracy just shrugs it off to quirkiness. Her peculiarities are a little more serious: After they marry, she won’t sleep in the same bed and cringes when she’s introduced as Frank’s wife. The not-so-happy couple calls it quits after three months, but the regrets linger; both remain unattached, only to realize that they still harbor some fondness. With caution, they reunite.

“Split” earns a lot of points for taking a new approach to a stale genre. While there is nothing particularly deep about the characters or their emotions, the basic idea — newfound devotion springing from a breakup — is a good one, and its execution is endearing.

The performances are fetching. The gangly Hynes isn’t much of a heartthrob, but his humble intonations and comic timing are infectious. As an actor — and a beau — he’s a perfect match for Greer, whose tomboy rebellion disguises true kindness.

Tyro helmer Hynes also scores with an amusing script full of Woody Allen insecurities told with a fresh voice.

Tech credits are a little rough, but some nifty Hi-8 camerawork and meaningful musical touches are put to good use.

The Big Split

Production

A Kramer/Tornell production in association with Crossroads Films. Produced by Stacy Kramer, Lisa Tornell. Directed, written by Martin Hynes.

Crew

Camera (color), Dino Parks; editor, David Birdsell; music, Tom Hynes; production designer, Mark Hutman; costume designer, Lee Kartis; sound (Dolby), Jonathon August Lee; associate producer, Allison Engel; assistant director, Michael Shea. Reviewed at AFI/L.A. Film Festival, Oct. 23, 1999. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Frank - Martin Hynes Tracy - Judy Greer Lyle - Darryl McCane Jenny - Rachel True Tracy's Mom - Maggie Baird Lyle's Brother - Casey Lee Tracy's Friend - Lindsay Price
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