Remember when a breakup could be stowed away in a box of an ex’s stuff? Now, the rise and demise of a couple is telegraphed online via romantic Instagram photos, candid Twitter posts and intimate G-chat conversations.
That digital footprint is easy to distribute when times were good, and emotionally taxing when times are less so.
Harder still is the challenge of portraying that social media arc of a modern love affair on-screen, but writer-director Jennifer Kaytin Robinson (MTV’s “Sweet/Vicious”) nails it in her Netflix rom-com “Someone Great,” which began streaming Friday.
“I think social media is a wasteland and it’s also great,” says Robinson, 31. “It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times.”
In “Someone Great,” Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) needs the help of her girls (played by DeWanda Wise and Brittany Snow) as she grapples with a breakup from long-term boyfriend Nate (Lakeith Stanfield) ahead of a cross-country move for a new job.
A sequence at the top of the film, set to Lorde’s wistful tune “Supercut,” shows a montage of Jenny’s major online relationship milestones: a Facebook profile picture of the two smooching, loving G-chat messages surreptitiously sent from class, funny photos of graduation cap poses, a nervous tweet sent before meeting his parents, a celebratory anniversary playlist, texts about promotions and the L word.
And then a dip in tone. Emails are sent about canceled plans, “love” is used less meaningfully in messages, and a final text exchange is shared: “I can’t believe we just broke up.” “I love you.”
The two-minute media montage is disarming and relatable for anyone who’s ever been in an Instagram-official relationship — and then thought about untagging the person they once proudly posed with.
“I wanted to get at that timestamp and [have this be] a millennial story,” Robinson says.
She also wanted the film to feel inclusive. Robinson wrote characters that could be played by women of any race, ultimately casting Rodriguez, a Latina; Wise, who is black, and Snow, who is Caucasian. She also hired a majority-female crew, with 74 women working in roles including cinematographer and assistant director.
But those aren’t the only differences “Someone Great” has from typical ’90s or early ’00s romantic comedies.
The movie starts with a breakup, but doesn’t end with a chase of an ex through an airport.
“As a young person, I wish I had more movies with a strong romantic through-line that also told me that I complete me [and I don’t need] someone else,” Robinson says. “I think that there’s something really interesting about making a movie about a breakup that doesn’t blow up her life. He was everything to her, but that doesn’t mean that she’s going to freak out and leave her job.”
Robinson would know. In fact, she wound up dealing with her own fresh breakup near the end of making “Someone Great.”
“Art came first, then this thing happened,” she says. “My life became the art.”