Breaking up is hard to watch
By Devin D. O’Leary
Directed by Peyton Reed
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn
Yes (giggle), Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn are (titter) dating. Can we all just move past that now? Can we finally get a grip on the fact that the love lives of Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie et al have nothing whatsoever to do with us mere mortals? Can we actually get back to the idea that these people are actors and that they make movies?
Yes? Good. Because Aniston and Vaughn have a new movie out, and it would be in the best interests of all involved to concentrate on that fact and to look at the film itself because ... huh. Well, whatta ya know? As it turns out, it's not really very good. In fact, you'd probably milk a bit more entertainment out of reading all the latest movie star gossip in The Enquirer. (Like, for example, did you hear that Brad and Angelina's new baby, Shiloh, was offered Namibian citizenship? I wonder if they're going to ditch the hectic Hollywood lifestyle and shack up together in Africa. I can just imagine what Jennifer thinks of that. I'll bet this week’s issue of The Star has a cover story talking all about how devastated she is!)
I mean ... marketed as the perfect summertime romantic comedy, Aniston and Vaughn's new film The Break-Up is a bitter, disaster-in-the-making that has blithely failed to heed the lesson of its predecessor/primary inspiration, Danny De Vito's 1989 anti-romance The War of the Roses. Those expecting lighthearted verbal sparring and fractured romance will be greeted by uncomfortable emotional warfare and long, laughless stretches.
Aniston and Vaughn play a couple who “meet cute” at a Cubs game. We know we're in for a long haul when it becomes apparent that—other than scripting convenience—there's absolutely no reason why Brooke (Aniston) and Gary (Vaughn) would be attracted to one another. He buys her a hot dog, she dumps her date and the couple's entire romance is summed up by a series of still photos that run under the credits. So, by the time the film actually gets going, we have no connection whatsoever with this duo.
A disastrous dinner party shows how badly matched this couple actually is. He's a sports-loving slob. She's a ballet-loving snob. He watches TV instead of helping her with the party. She wigs out and calls him an “inconsiderate prick.” Are you laughing yet?
Following the inevitable titular promise, the central conflict in The Break-Up is that now-out-of-love Brooke and Gary own a very posh Chicago condo, and neither is willing to give it up. Naturally, they continue to live together in the home, finding little ways in which to annoy one another.
The strange thing is that the two stars do good work here. Both capably hint at the emotional pain and buried love that lie beneath their bickering and backbiting. Vaughn, of course, improvises much of his dialogue—though little of it pays off in the way of punch lines. Aniston shows a touching vulnerability, as she's done in the past. But this film only goes to prove her best work (The Good Girl, for example) is not to be found in generic romantic comedies. The problem is clearly the script (by first-timers Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender), which sticks them with a pair of thoroughly unsympathetic characters. It’s hard to judge the chemistry of costars when they’re required by the script at hand to have none.
A host of supporting players (Jon Favreau as a bartender buddy, Judy Davis as a rude gallery owner, John Michael Higgins as Brooke’s closeted brother) try to lift the laugh factor, but end up feeling like they’ve been recruited from a different, much less mean-spirited romantic comedy taking place across town. Director Peyton Reed (who proved himself equally misguided in the “period” romantic comedy Down With Love) struggles with the same problems that De Vito (a much more skilled director) had in The War of the Roses—namely, making unlikable characters and ugly situations funny. And, no, the thoroughly tacked-on happy ending doesn't help matters any.
If you want to see Aniston and Vaughn embroiled in a story of romance, drama and comedy, pick up the latest People magazine instead. Or borrow my copy.
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