Director : Peyton Reed
Screenplay : Jeremy Garelick & Jay Lavender (story by Vince Vaughn & Jeremy Garelick & Jay Lavender)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Vince Vaughn (Gary Grobowski), Jennifer Aniston (Brooke Meyers), Joey Lauren Adams (Maddie), Cole Hauser (Lupus Grobowski), Jon Favreau (Johnny O), Jason Bateman (Riggleman), Judy Davis (Marilyn Dean), Justin Long (Christopher), Ivan Sergei (Carson Wigham), John Michael Higgins (Richard Meyers), Ann-Margret (Wendy Meyers), Vernon Vaughn (Howard Meyers), Vincent D'Onofrio (Dennis Grobowski), Jane Alderman (Mrs. Grobowski), Jacqueline Williams (Shondra), Peter Billingsley (Andrew)
Star power is an interesting thing, especially when it goes wrong. Simply because of the presence of Vince Vaughn in The Break-Up, people have been entering the theater under the impression that they're in for an uproarious romantic comedy--When Harry Met Sally by way of Old School. Granted, the theatrical trailer has to bear some of the blame, as it squarely positions the film as an outright comedy by stringing together virtually every funny sequence available and avoiding any suggestion of the film's more serious moments (are these the same trailer editors at Universal who made the dramatic Prime look like a wacky comedy about a psychiatrist?).
However, one has to ask: Did anyone bother reading the title? This is a story about a break-up, about two people who used to love each other but have found that they cannot live together anymore and must go their separate ways. However, people seem to think that, because one of those people is played by Vince Vaughn, then the entire enterprise must be funny. And, obviously not wanting to disappoint, Vaughn (who also has a producer and story credit) does his best to deliver what viewers have come to expect from him: his own particular brand of intensely clever, too-good-to-be-stream-of-consciousness rapid-fire dialogue.
Yet, it's a perfectly wrong approach to the character and the movie, and it plays like a feeble attempt to make The Break-Up something it is not. One could imagine that, with a different lead actor (or with Vaughn taking a different approach), it would have been more true to itself, rather than trying to force-fit a particular brand of comedy into a movie that has no room for it.
The Break-Up is the story of opposites who attract and then repel: Gary Grobowski (Vaughn), a working-class tour guide, and Brooke Meyers (Jennifer Aniston), a stylish art gallery manager. In the movie's opening scene, Gary literally steals Brooke away from her "tucked-in" boyfriend at a Chicago Cubs game, and a montage of photographs during the credit sequence establish their loving relationship. However, that is all we see of love between them (it's the only time in the movie we see them kiss), and once the story starts proper, they are already on the brink of falling apart.
Even after Gary and Brooke decide to break up, they are stuck living in the same condo because they co-own it and neither will leave. The twist, though, is that Brooke doesn't really want to break up. She is using the break-up as a ploy to get Gary to see how miserable his life would be without her and to come back and apologize. Gary, however, isn't seeing things that way and is instead reveling in pathetic single-guy life, which consists primarily of trolling his favorite bar, sleeping in late, not picking up after himself, and playing video games on the couch. Vaughn succeeds so well in being slovenly and self-centered (he looks quite bad physically--bloated and unhealthy, in fact) that you find yourself questioning why Brooke would not only want to be with him in the first place, but why would she go through so much trouble (including making him jealous by bringing over her "dates") to try to get him back.
However, even though the story stacks the deck in Brooke's favor, from a purely emotional point of view, The Break-Up is surprisingly astute in the way it observes male and female romantic patterns. The male tendency to fall into routines and take a relationship for granted and the female tendency to expect mind reading are both central to Gary and Brooke's problems, and the scenes in which they fight have the hard, bitter edges of truth to them. Vaughn and Aniston are at their best in the movie when their characters are at their worst, which unfortunately doesn't make for good comedy.
But that doesn't stop director Peyton Reed (Down With Love) from trying to make it funny. And, to be fair, there are some scenes that are quite humorous, albeit often in slightly uncomfortable ways. A scene near the beginning in which Gary and Brooke have their respective families over for dinner works primarily because it unpacks so many of the small tensions that drive relationships into the ground (Gary's unwillingness to help out, Brooke's desire for him to "want" to do the dishes, something no one ever "wants" to do). However, it also works in broader comedic strokes when Brooke's barely closeted brother Richard (John Michael Higgins) turns the entire dinner party into a musical ensemble.
Yet, this is precisely the film's problem. Such comedy feels stranded in a sea of more serious scenes, and as a result they lose their appeal. The laughs become more and more forced, until it seems like Reed just abandons the approach by the final third, resigned to the fact that The Break-Up is much better drama than it is comedy. This is, after all, a movie whose final scene owes much more to the maudlin Barbara Streisand/Robert Redford tearjerker The Way We Were (1973) than Wedding Crashers.
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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