The Break Up Review
Billed as an “anti-romantic comedy”, The Break Up is so confused about what it actually wants to be that it’s neither funny nor a riposte to light-hearted romantic fluff. Director Peyton Reed’s ambition is commendable, because the story completely confounds mainstream rom-com practice. But his gamble fails to come off. By confusing genres, he has contrived to take Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn – two attractive, reasonable comic actors, not to mention an item in real life – and suppress the sexual and comic chemistry between them.
Vaughn is Gary, a blokish, Chicago bus tour operator who meets art gallery assistant Brooke (Aniston) at a baseball game and proceeds to charm her from her date with Vaughn’s oft-seen rat-a-tat, relentless flirtation. Their entire romance then unfolds in polaroids over the opening credits, giving the audience no sense of why they hooked up. Which is fine, except when we meet them again they’re into a war of attrition that will last the entire film.
The final straw for their relationship is a dinner party with Gary’s brothers and Brooke’s family, where her brother Richard (John Michael Higgins) insists on commencing a singalong. It’s supposed to be a comic interlude, but seems to belong to another film. Followed by Gary’s refusal to do the dishes, it opens up everything festering between them: he never listens to her or appreciates the work she does around the house; she never lets him kick back and watch baseball, or considers the idea of installing a pool table. Both are so spectacularly ill-suited to each other that the film should probably end there. Yet thanks to their mutual stubbornness and the terrible advice of their best friends (Joey Lauren Adams and Jon Favreau), a contrived plot follows where they divide their condo’s living space between them, she in the bedroom, he on the couch in the living room. She brings a series of men home to make him jealous; he entertains a crowd of strippers. It’s neither believable nor so outlandish you might find yourself laughing.
The supporting cast, particularly Richard and Brooke’s art gallery boss (Judy Davis) are supposed to provide light relief, and Vaughn and Favreau reprise some of their Swingers buddy-buddy pairing, but the decline of the central relationship is just too doomed and acrimonious to enjoy it. Which is a shame, because the premise, while explored more satisfyingly in The War of The Roses, might have benefited from an update with these leads.
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