The Break-Up (2006) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, some nudity and language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Joey Lauren Adams, Judy Davis, Cole Hauser, Vincent D'Onofrio, Justin Long, Jason Bateman, Ivan Sergei, John Michael Higgins, Ann-Margret, Peter Billingsley, Old 97's
Director: Peyton Reed
Screenplay: Vince Vaughn, Jeremy Garelick, Jay Lavender
Review published June 4, 2006
Brooke (Aniston, Friends with Money) and Gary (Vaughn, Wedding Crashers) are live-in lovers that get into a heated argument about Gary's choice of slacking, rather than voluntarily assisting his insufferable girlfriend with the daily chores. Brooke gets so frustrated that she breaks things off with Gary, Gary walks out, causing the break-up to linger despite the fact that both participants would rather be together. However, rather than try to make up immediately, Brooke tries to get Gary to come around by realizing what he's giving up, while Gary continues to misinterpret Brooke's behavior as a lack of interest. As each party vies to make the other jealous, the temporary break-up becomes ever more permanent.
The Break-Up is, quite ironically, one of those films where I have to break up my review to discuss what I liked independently from what I didn't. It's a "romantic" comedy that I could have enjoyed fully, if only needless and poorly conceptualized elements didn't continuously creep in to mar what should otherwise have been a fun time for all. While in the end, I feel that the film contained enough strong points to recommend for potential viewers that enjoy the stars and romantic comedies in general, the weaknesses are sufficient that reservations are in order.
The lead actors are the main attraction, and they do deliver with some strong performances, not only in terms of the comedy, but also during the more serious moments where things come to a head. The supporting cast offers a good chemistry for Vaughn and Aniston, delivering several key funny moments all on their own (there is a downside -- see below). Peyton Reed's (Down with Love, Bring It On) direction is lively and vibrant, and he allows the actors to ad-lib some memorably funny material within the construct of the underlying premise. That premise is also quite funny -- we've seen lovebirds living together squabble to the point of dastardly deeds, most notably in The War of the Roses, and to some extent, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but the angle that one of them is only pretending so that she can win the other back is an interesting wrinkle. As such, Aniston's character is particularly sympathetic, as we actually do hope for a happy resolution for her, which is the sole fuel that the engine called the plot runs on.
The biggest nitpick I have regarding The Break-Up is one of sheer excess. Too many kooky supporting characters are given the spotlight for reasons unknown, and while they might be funny at times, the constant asides do detract from the dramatic momentum of the emotional story at its core. These mostly needless supporting characters are given so much screen time, the film itself seems overlong; even though the running time is under two hours, the film is in much need of tightening up, as even funny moments go on longer than the comedic payoff necessitates. While The Break-Up is billed as a hilarious comedy, it has large doses of relationship dissolution that causes some serious moments, but Vaughn and the other screenwriters aren't willing to accept that the film should ever be too serious. As a result, they've injected as many quirky little moments as they can, and the result is the uneven experience of a film that doesn't know which direction to adhere to.
Another key detraction is the fact that it is apparent that Brooke could never really find anything more than a temporary happiness with an obtuse, self-absorbed jackass like Gary. For The Break-Up to work properly, we in the audience need to think that these two characters really need and deserve to be together. However, as presented by the film, we only want them to get together because we sympathize so much with Brooke, we want her to find the happiness she seeks, even though it's with with him, and regardless of whether we think it will work out in the long run. Basically, we know Brooke deserves much, much better than Gary and his idiotic, immature friends, and yet, we're forced into rooting for a resolution that we all know in our hearts can only lead to constant unhappiness.
The final verdict
In my opinion, The Break-Up has enough choice moments to prove a worthwhile experience, despite some sizable weaknesses that keep the vehicle from finding the right tempo to truly mean something. It is full of witty insights, funny verbal exchanges, and interesting relationship nuances, but outside of the initial premise, Vaughn and co. just didn't know where to go with the material, which is only further evidenced by an ending that smacks of "re-shot due to audience displeasure". Better moments notwithstanding, The Break-Up is not unlike the ever-escalating sourness of the relationship at the core of the film -- there's potential there for something special, and yet, the more they try to make things work out, the more disappointing things actually become.
©2006 Vince Leo