MOVIE REVIEW: BREAK POINT
September 6, 2015
It's Game, Set, Match for BREAK POINT! For many, the game of tennis can be as boring as watching paint dry, or a ball endlessly bounce. For others, it’s an exciting, riveting, emotionally charged sport with nuance, intelligence and skill. What that means is that making a film set in the world of tennis is pretty much going to align with one of those perceptions. In the case of BREAK POINT, it’s definitely the latter as co-writers Jeremy Sisto and Gene Hong together with director Jay Karas deliver one of the most engaging and entertaining “sports based” films made, especially one set in the world of tennis. And it’s thanks to the nuance and intelligence of the story, well defined characters, well-crafted visual metaphor, and dynamic performances that BREAK POINT has that little extra spin that scores an ace every time.
In their youth, Jimmy and Darren were one of the best junior doubles teams in the United States with the potential to become the best in the world. Unfortunately, the always edgy and impatient Jimmy, didn’t want to continue on the tried and true play he and Darren had developed. No, Jimmy is so hungry for titles anc championships that he dumps Darren and partners up with someone else. Worst part is that not only did the partnership of Jimmy and Darren fall apart, so did their relationship as brothers.
Now decades later, Jimmy finds himself as the bad boy of the tennis circuit and in need of a partner if he is going to have one final fling at the as yet unattained championship glory. Having been dumped by every doubles player on the tennis circuit, Jimmy has no alternative but to grovel and beg Darren to return to play with him in a bid to qualify for the US Open. Now working as a substitute teacher, but for the occasional pick-up game, Darren has long moved on from tennis, but deep down he still longs for the closeness he once had with his brother.
Ultimately agreeing to partner up with Jimmy, Darren has his work cut out for him when it comes not only training and getting Jimmy back into fighting shape (seems Jimmy has spent more time with wine and women of late than on the tennis court), but getting their once perfect rhythm back in sync, a rhythm that only comes with the closeness of brothers, could be beginning of the end.
With some well placed parental advice from their veterinarian father Jack, and unbridled enthusiasm and encouragement from the always fashionable and color coordinated Barry, a young student of Darren’s who has attached himself to the brothers as his “mentors” for the summer, every lob, let, net, fault, ace, point, game and match plays out on multiple levels before our eyes.
Let’s face it ladies. Jeremy Sisto is hotter than hot as Jimmy; clearly taping into the John McEnroe bad boy of tennis persons while adding his own level of sweaty sex appeal and humor. You love Jimmy and you love to hate him all at the same time. BUT, there is never a moment you don’t believe who Jimmy is and the sibling relationship with David Walton’s Darren. Walton is really an ace for BREAK POINT given that in addition to a skilled actor, he is an amateur tennis player and boasts a USTA rating of 5 out of 7. Walton brings the welcome and necessary “nice” factor to the sibling rivalry.
JK Simmons is sage perfection as Jack. Kind, matter-of-fact and inherently parentally funny, Simmons is a delight with rock solid parental grounding that rings true and touches the heart. Hilarious"divine" moments from the good Adam Devine as fellow player Nick, while as Gary (rival to the affections of Darren’s wanna be girlfriend) Vince Ventresca still plays beautifully as the arrogant-ass type we saw in “Romy & Michelle’s high school Reunion”.
But it's Joshua Rush as Barry who steals the entire film, and your heart, and never more so than in third act going toe-to-toe with Sisto. On screen for more than 50% of the film, much of the story and the humor falls on Rush’s capable shoulders and he never drops the ball. Adding another layer to the story is Barry’s journey which runs parallel to that of Jimmy and Darren, intersecting and being influenced on one another along the way. Watching Rush navigate the treacherous waters of finding himself as Jimmy and Darren find themselves, is a joy.
According to director Jay Karas, “Tennis was the way in. It’s the two brothers deciding to make a run in doubles tennis and they realize at a certain point that in order to be in sync as players, they have to be in sync as brothers and as human beings. . . At its core, it’s a story about brothers repairing relationships. You can take away the tennis and drop it into any scenario. The doubles tennis thing just happens to work really well because they have to work together and they have to be able to communicate in a really interesting, non-verbal, physical way.” With story and script by Jeremy Sisto and co-writer Gene Hong, the story is well defined and the characters and the sibling relationship between Jimmy and Darren beyond believable. Stand out is the character development and the emotional growth of each, resonating on every level. And the dialogue is beyond sharp and witty, especially that of Sisto’s character Jimmy and Joshua Rush’s character of Barry.
But what brings those characters and their journey to life are the film’s visuals. Employing Sidney Lumet’s philosophy of “designing and creating visual metaphor for wherever you are in the film”, Karas and cinematographer Jim Frohna developing a specific map for lighting and lensing. “When we first meet Jeremy Sisto’s character Jimmy Price, he’s all over the place. He’s a loose cannon. He’s a mess. So the camera work should be handheld and a little bit loose to match Jimmy. When we first meet Darren, he’s sort of introverted and inward and put upon and very stoic and static and staid and the shots should match that. . . It was figuring out where we are with their relationship and designing the camera work around that. The added layer of aesthetic complication was figuring out how to shoot the tennis stuff and tracking that as well. Each tennis match had some key story points to follow and it also had to track in terms of the visual metaphor of where they were in their relationship and not just about the game. The game was the metaphor for how the brothers were doing in repairing their relationship.” The result is engaging and entertaining and filled with poignancy and laughter. BREAK POINT is first and foremost a story of characters and reconciliation with sports a mere backdrop.
Frohna’s cinematography stays tonally light, refreshing and engaging while adding interest to his lensing of actual tennis matches. Complementing the lensing is the editing of tennis match lensing. Fabulous use of slo-mo, dutching and close-ups, not to mention a killer ball drop shot onto the camera lens by Walton’s Darren. Terrific lensing is further complemented by the editing of Seth Clark and Brad. E. Wilhite.
Notable is that while, according to Karas, “it was a lot of work putting it together, a lot of work shooting it and we wanted to just make it feel very real, too”, key is that “ We didn’t use any stunt doubles in any of the tennis. There’s no digital balls. It’s all real.”
BREAK POINT’s got all the balls in its court this Labor Day weekend! Let’s play!
EXCLUSIVE TO THE OBSERVER:
debbie volleys one-on-one with JOSHUA RUSH
Joshua Rush is a face you undoubtedly recognize thanks to his numerous television commercials and prior big screen appearances in films like “Parental Guidance” and “Saving Lincoln” and now, BREAK POINT You may also recognize him from his voice work in films like “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”, “Escape From Planet Earth” (where he voiced the younger character to William Shatner’s adult character) and animated tv shows like “Family Guy.” Joshua is everywhere - including living right here in Culver City.
Sitting down with Joshua is a rare gift. Well mannered, polite and well spoken, he is also a young man on the move with very definite goals in his life and career. His boundless energy and enthusiasm is infectious and genuine. Mentioning my own joy at watching BREAK POINT, he himself lit up as he talked about the film at hand. “I’m really glad that I can make you smile. It was a really fun movie to shoot. I had a lot of fun. This kid marches to the beat of a different drum and it was a lot of fun playing this really, really different kid. I got to tap into this part of myself that I think we all really have, but that we kind of keep checked in to ourselves. Barry was a lot of fun because I just kind of got to LET LOOSE and have a lot of fun on the set.” But as Joshua reflected, it was clear that the character of Barry is a character close to Joshua’s heart. “There’s a lot of Josh in Barry. I think I don’t keep this very Barry part of myself in check very well, but I didn’t really have to think about that on the set. I got to really let this Barry part of me HOWL! I got to be this flamboyant, different kind of a little crazy character and it was So MUCH FUN because it was really different from what I’ve had to portray in the past.”
So just how does an actor with a diverse range of talents find signature roles like Barry? As with most actors, it starts with the script and audition inquiries coming his way. “It will usually go to my agent or my manager and if they want to submit me for it, then it goes back to the casting director and the casting director will say ‘Great, we want to see this kid.’ From there it goes back to the agent and then over to my dad. Then my parents will look it over and they’ll be like either ‘Um, we don’t want Josh playing this’ or ‘Yes, we want Josh playing this.’ Then it will come to me and by then everybody’s weeded out all the bad [scripts], so I get these really great scripts. And I’m like, ‘Awesome! Let’s do it! Let’s go out there and I’m gonna give it my all and hopefully I’ll get this part.’ If I do, sometimes I get to play a really sad kid or a really mean, scary kid or sometimes a kind of crazy, kind of fun kid like Barry. . .But, by the time it gets to me, 99% of the time it will be a good movie or show or whatever it is.”
Interesting is Joshua’s knowledge and involvement in not only the casting process, but in understanding of the business and the industry in general. “I’ve done a lot of indie movies and I really like indie movies. But I go out on these studio movies as well. . .I think if I had to pick two [mediums] that were the most similar, it would be tv and film. In tv there’s so many varieties. You go from sitcom tv to mini-series tv which is almost like movies. And then voice acting. It’s very different because you have to use your voice to portray this character. In voice acting it’s really interesting because I don’t actually end up seeing myself. I only hear myself. But I do get to see myself in the way that these animators at these big big companies, Dreamworks, Disney, Cartoon Network, whatever, these really talented people take my voice and turn it into this character and that’s what people see. They don’t think about that kid who spent 4 hours in a recording studio with headphones on and had to massage his ears afterwards. They don’t think about that. They think about what’s in front of them and that’s really cool to me about voice acting.” Surprising even himself, Joshua chuckles, noting, “That’s one thing that’s always really amazed me because I do that, too. I’ll sit there for a little while and I’ll get in to one of my shows and then I’m like, ‘Wait a minute! That’s me! Whoa! What’s happening right now?’!”
On thing that Joshua has in common with Barry is fashion and comfort. The most casually well-dressed and comfortable among his BREAK POINT co-stars Jeremy Sisto and David Walton at the film’s recent press day, Joshua describes himself as being “very fashion forward. I like wearing my nice La Miniatura. Their clothes are amazing. And I love wearing them because their clothes are really soft. Even now, when I’m dressed up I feel like I’m wearing pajamas, to be honest with you. . .Everything’s so soft and thin and light.” (The fabrications are fabulous, folks!) And Joshua sympathizes for some of his fellow actors. “I know a lot of actors who wear these really starchy and itchy clothes. I’ve known actors who always are scratching themselves because even though they look great, they don’t feel great. I look great and I feel great!” And he does!
When talk turned to the gift of acting, as Joshua spoke, my thoughts turned to his parents who have instilled a great sense of gratitude and pragmatism in this young man. “Acting is this incredibly stressful job. It is hard. It’s really hard. For every thousand no’s you get, you might get one, maybe two, yeses. But those one or even two yeses are the most incredible feelings in the world. It makes my day. It makes my week so much better. It is the most incredible experience to be able to get this one yes and every no that I get makes that next yes a hundred times more powerful and exciting.”
Although Joshua has fielded a few no’s in his career thus far, the one “no” he hopes to never hear involves his dream role. James Bond. “I wanna play James Bond! I want to be the next James Bond. I fan girl over every James Bond movie ever because it seems like it would be such a cool part to play. He’s this suave ladies man who wears great clothes and drives a cool car and is a secret agent. . .James Bond is like the ultimate, cool guy.”
For my money, the ultimate cool guy is Rush. Joshua Rush.