The Break-Up

| June 10, 2006

At some point, we have all had the dilemma of refereeing two friends (or sets of friends) who can’t stand one another without you in the middle as a buffer. On one hand, you love them for their different qualities. On the other hand, the next time they bitch about each other you’d like to take a baseball bat to their esophagus for those sublime five minutes of silence before the authorities arrive.
That’s what it’s like to watch The Break-Up. That’s what’s it’s like to see the naturally charismatic duo of Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston waste their times (and ours) trying to sabotage their characters through lazy acting and myopic writing. That’s what it’s like to see director Peyton Reed (Down With Love) sink another romantic comedy by trying to tear down sexual stereotypes that are barely existent anymore.
The premise is simple: boy and girl fall in love, get a condo, fall out of love, fight a lot, break up, refuse to give up their condo, engage in a series of stupefying acts in order to establish some sort of dominance over the other. It’s a little hazy since both sides aren’t fleshed out past stereotypes established in Hollywood since “the Honeymooners” – Man likes the booze and sports, Woman likes to manipulate the man through chores and sex. They each have friends (Jon Favreau for Vaughn and Joey Lauren Adams for Aniston) who give them advice so unsound, that they go back on it later on in the film. It’s not original, so why try to dress it up as something else? Oh, I see. It’s different because they broke up and not lived happily ever after, since no one has gone that romance-through-dysfunction route (*cough* His Girl Friday, Annie Hall, High Fidelity, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind *cough*). What? It was a long cough.
The leads offer very little aside from Vince Vaughn’s motormouth antics and Jennifer Aniston’s brooding and scheming. Both of which are wonderful when they’re apart but the lack of character cohesiveness results in utter contempt for both when they’re together. It’s never a good sign when you’re openly questioning how the two people ever co-existed without slashing each other’s throats. At some point, Reed and the writers should have pow-wowed and figure out if they were trying to crack some hearts or crack us up. Because when the film can’t figure out which they want to do, then the message comes off as incoherent. It came to the point that the theater was filled with nervous titter because no one knew whether the film was trying to make us laugh or cringe.
Judging from what I saw, it seems Reed and Co. wanted to make us do both. But why contrast the styles so starkly? Why put so many over-the-top characters (Aniston’s and Vaughn’s siblings and bosses/co-workers) when half of the film is mired in melancholy? The idea doesn’t make sense, and neither does the tone of the movie.
That said, The Break-Up did do one thing right and that was the ending – the third one after the first two previewed disastrously in front of audiences. Reed landed a burning plane safely. But that doesn’t clear him from setting the thing on fire in the first place.

About the Author:

Del Harvey is a co-founder of Film Monthly. He is an independent filmmaker, film director, screenwriter, and film teacher, currently living in Chicago.
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