At a surprisingly brief 74 minutes, writer-director Galt Niederhoffer’s 10 Things We Should Do Before We Break Up feels like it ends just as it gets going, but, as with the quirky relationship at its core, it turns out there’s the right amount of magic to sustain itself for the perfect amount of time. In the vein of dialogue-driven pseudo-rom-coms like the Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy and Elan Mastai’s charming What If, 10 Things (not to be confused with 10 Things I Hate About You—though both have similarly ridiculous titles) manages to sneak up on you out of nowhere to become a fun little diversion of a film, which feels at once like a real and honest story and a fractured fairy tale.
Christina Ricci leads the way as Brooklynite Abigail, a single mother of two with a burgeoning career as a kids’ book illustrator. Under the guise of a girls’ night out, she’s lured by a friend to a local bar only to find she’s being set up with Benjamin (Hamish Linklater—no relation to Richard), a thirty-eight-year-old man-child who’s never had a relationship that lasted longer than six months.
Just a few minutes into the evening, Ben has already (half-facetiously) proclaimed the relationship doomed and suggests they make the titular list to take the pressure off—among the items are “get to second base in a taxi on a bridge”, “learn to surf”, and “spend Sunday reading the Times in bed”. Not exactly heady, relationship-building stuff, but an intrigued Abigail plays along and, before you know it, they’ve checked off that first item. And then some. Flash-forward a month to Abigail peeing on the magical stick to find out she’s pregnant.
The next hour of the film is a very simple and very economical look at the highs and lows of a budding relationship, played out almost in reverse. “Now all we have to do is fall in love,” Benjamin says at one point, after deciding to stick around and support the mother of his unborn child. As the pair grow closer and fall into a rhythm, the ten things perfunctorily get checked off, though it’s usually without the two of them (and the audience, for that matter) even realizing it. Throughout it all, Benjamin is also trying to bond with Abigail’s children, and eventually, she takes him home to meet the extended family.
Credit Niederhoffer (writing only her third film, and the first since 2010’s The Romantics) for not including a flowery, sappy, or trite note anywhere in 10 Things. The script is a smartly written exercise in effective dialogue—often funny and sometimes serious but never phony. She easily demonstrates that she can, in only a few lines, develop an entire character, shatter a heart, or put a relationship together again, and Ricci and Linklater offer superb performances that do it justice. The palpable chemistry between the two actors is a driving force in 10 Things, giving the film plenty of heart and depth to carry it across the finish line.
It’s doubtful very many eyes will ever see 10 Things We Should Do Before We Break Up. Without a major studio behind it or a bankable A-list star, it’s undoubtedly destined for a short life on the In-Demand and/or art house circuit, and that’s too bad. For fans of the genre, it so clearly deserves a spot on your list of things to do.