Break-Up, though, turns these rom-com conventions on their side, and in
doing so colorfully, wittily celebrates what it is about men and women that
both attracts one another and drives us crazy.
By now, of course, the winkingly unacknowledged real-life
love affair between stars Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston has become
compelling tabloid B-plot fodder to the birth of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s
new baby girl, and all but eclipsed the regular Hollywood hype cycle for a
summer release like The Break-Up.
Exactly what that augurs for the movie’s commercial prospects is hard to gauge.
After all, audiences flocked to see Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but not Proof of Life,
which featured a similarly high-profile dalliance between its stars. (And let’s
not even talk about Gigli, please.)
The fact remains, though, that Vaughn, as producer-writer-star of The Break-Up, offers up an ambitious
pass at an “un-romantic comedy,” a legitimately funny movie that traces with
surprising if not unwelcome emotional depth the devolution of a relationship.
Vaughn stars as Gary Grobowski, a garrulous if slightly
doughy charmer who with his two brothers (Vincent D’Onofrio and Cole Hauser)
runs a guided tourist service in
The film shows us the first meeting between
and art gallery curator Brooke Meyers (Aniston), at a Cubs-White Sox game, and
then quickly sling-shots us forward several years, after the pair have
purchased a condominium together and settled into a complacent domestic groove.
A hosted dinner with their respective families deteriorates into a bitter
fight, and Brooke impulsively puts an end to their relationship.
Of course, there’s still that matter about their living
arrangements, and over the next couple of weeks things get worse and worse on
that front as well. Petty disagreements over common space, noise and schedule
escalate into Brooke inviting over dates,
inviting over strippers and other actions of comeuppance. The couple’s realtor
(Jason Bateman) and shared friends, including Maddie (Joey Lauren Adams) and
Johnny (Jon Favreau), all get sucked into the fray as well.
Working with screenwriters Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender,
Vaughn finds humor in the lack of a fully developed set of social reference
skills. Comedy is typically a steadfast commitment to the absurd, but here it’s
more about a dedication to
oblivious, benignly self-involved infantilism, which Vaughn nails through the
presentation of a sense of humor that masks an insecure petulance. The Break-Up isn’t “dark,” per se, or as
legendarily big of a comedic departure as Jim Carrey’s work in The Cable Guy, but both Gary and Brooke
are given moments of candid woundedness and the film’s arguments — on the
surface about pool tables and lemon centerpieces, but of course about much more
— are real and substantive. This is all a way of saying that, despite its
well-seeded outrageousness, The Break-Up
feels remarkably real. For those wanting merely a saccharinized narrative
inversion of the traditional romantic comedy, that will be at times extremely
confounding, especially as the film progresses. In my book, however, it’s a
Director Peyton Reed (Bring
It On) replicates in properly modulated fashion the nimble tone of his work
on Down With Love, and the film
additionally benefits from its stocking with both bit players with whom Vaughn
has previously worked — including Favreau, Adams, Hauser and Justin Long —
along with those who similarly “get” his gangly, loose-limbed style.
The film slows down a bit in its final third — as much
because of the unnaturalness of its narrative arc as anything else — and Brooke
remains a bit of an enigma. We’re left to infer some of her feelings rather
than bear witness to them. In the end, though, The Break-Up is at least partially notable for what it doesn’t radically reinvent. Tanned,
toned and wrinkled-nose cute, Aniston again ably showcases the full breadth of
stammering uncertainty; Vaughn, meanwhile, summons up yet another iteration of
the character he does best — a free-wheeling man-child. These are two flavors
we’ve tasted separately before, but they’re deeper and more fully rounded here,
and complemented by a fantastic ensemble. There’s nothing broken about The Break-Up. (Universal,
PG-13, 105 mins.)