Movie Review
The Break-Up
Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, Jon Favreau

much as we’ve attempted to willfully tune it out, we’ve been hearing about The Break-Up for what seems like time immemorial—or perhaps only a year. But still, this seems particularly long considering the context in which the “soon-to-be-released” movie was continually invoked: l’affaire Jen and Brad—a drama that is now clearly larger than their respectively unremarkable careers, quick as it was to envelop what little tact and circumspection remained in entertainment journalism.

The histories will read that the bulbous-lipped Angelina Jolie cuckolded the svelte, spunky Friends star out of the clutches of the pretty Mr. Pitt. And for the record, the former Mrs. Pitt stumbled her despondent self, as ironically as she could, onto the set of The Break-Up, only to rebound something awful with the amiable if “puffy” Vince Vaughn. Her better half, meanwhile, matched up with his aesthetic equal and proceeded to, rather shamelessly, be a better human being than a quarter of North Americans can ever claim or hope to be, adopting a child (from Ethiopia no less), and settling down in Namibia—not France, not Italy, not, maybe, Argentina—to raise what will empirically be the cutest baby in the world.

For her part, Aniston closed off 2005 with two stillborn offerings that came and went with little fanfare: one Clive Owen would rather forget (Derailed); the other (Rumor Has It), well, Kevin Costner is just thankful to have had the work. But, finally, The Break-Up seems poised to set Ms. Aniston on the road to recovery (notwithstanding news of the Pitt-Jolie scion).

Surely, romance and comedy aren’t genres Ms. Aniston is unfamiliar with; the same, especially the former, cannot be said of Vaughan. We should recall how uncomfortable we felt when Vaughan attempted romantic earnest in A Cool, Dry Place, which was one of his better (and few) dramatic roles. But comedy, conventional wisdom has it, is much tougher than drama, and Vaughn has staked his claim as one of the leading lights in comedic film over the past few years. In this respect, The Break-Up doesn’t disappoint, and may, in fact, be one of the funniest comedies since, well, Wedding Crashers. Except, of course, for the puzzling, most likely needless, dramatic sequences and the confusing, if confused, anti-climax of a non-ending.

Right at the jump, Gary Grobowski (Vaughn) and Brooke Meyers (Aniston) meet-cute at a Cubs game, Gray being so bold as to pick-up Brooke in the presence of her date, a foil rightly derided for his plaid shorts and tucked in golf-shirt. Then follows a rolling montage of pictures from, I guess, their courtship and relationship, thus filling the temporal ellipsis that greets us when Gary and Brooke break-up-cute. Before that, though, the quintessential dinner table scene, Brooke and Gary’s family in attendance, dishes out the first, hearty heap of comedy.

Brooke’s brother, Richard (John Michael Higgins), is a well-groomed bachelor and member of an all men’s a cappella group called the Tone Rangers. Right. There is little doubt as to his sexual orientation when he breaks out in full-throated, peppy song while, at the same time, conducting the mostly unresponsive dinner guests. Higgins is thoroughly silly and consistently engaging in this bit-part that had the packed theater raucous and reeling for air.

After the dinner, Brooke and Gary get into a fight, the type of trivial fight that generally devolves into searching questions of high seriousness (your mate’s desire, or lack thereof, to not only do the dishes but seeming to want to do the dishes). Aniston is indistinguishable from Rachel, a tragedy of the star system, but Vaughn, when kept talking long enough, is bound to say something tart. A few untoward minutes of silence and self-reflection after their break-up, I’m realizing that I’m sitting way too close to everyone else in the theater; and that Vince Vaughn’s face looks far too distended; and, also, that I’m not exactly a fan of the comedy to schmaltzy sentiment transition.

To the rescue, thankfully, is Vaughn’s real life friend Jon Favreau as Johnny O, Gary’s curmudgeonly dour best friend, prone to astonishing comments of expressionless creepiness so paranoid they’re funny. Vaughn plays Favreau’s straight man effectively well, considering, and their on-screen chemistry and dialogue smartly anchors the movie every time it seems to go stylistically adrift.

Now that Gary and Brooke are broken-up, neither wanting to move from their posh condo, they engage in an emotional arms race, each wanting the other to relent and give in. Brooke gets a bikini wax and parades around the condo naked; Gary, on the other hand, invites his brother over (charging him responsible for the “talent”), and thus partake in some strip poker with women who are almost certainly escorts.

The problem, however, is that we really have no emotional investment in Gary and Broke as a couple, and while the movie’s emphasis is on Aniston’s character coaxing Vaughn’s back into the relationship, the viewer is clearly more interested in seeing Vaughn yuck it up with his Swingers compatriot. Even scenes with Vaughn’s on-screen brother, Lupus (a manic Cole Hauser)—which are few and far between, I might add—pop, whereas Aniston’s underwhelm; her character almost seems beside the point. The movie goes on to proves this very point when Brooke, intent on making Gary jealous, invites a cute guy back to the condo, only to be usurped by Gary’s winning charm, her cute date intent on an engrossing game of Madden and genuflecting over Gary’s exploits.

In the end, The Break-Up is broken-up into its funny parts and not-so-funny parts, which led to plenty of head-scratching and vacant stares as people exited the theater wondering how a movie of such potential ended so flaccidly. Not surprisingly, the ending was re-shot various times, though kept testing poorly with initial audiences. Maybe they picked the wrong one? Anyhow, Old School 2 is in the works (seriously!), so the wafer-bland Aniston better hold on to Vaughn while she still can—he’s dropped some pounds and is looking sharp. If her unlucky streak continues, history may repeat itself.

The Break-Up is playing in theatres across the country.

By: Ron Mashate
Published on: 2006-06-06

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