The Break-Up Review

A dinner party ignites the argument that turns into the fight that leads Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) to call it quits. Up to this point, they've been a mismatched but basically happy couple living together in a comfortable Chicago apartment. Brooke is quite the sophisticated girl-about-town: she works in an art gallery, enjoys the ballet and likes playing the party host; Gary is more of a macho, blue collar guy's guy: he works with his brothers as a city tour guide and he's into sports, drinking with his buddies and long sessions of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

The differences between Gary and Brooke and the subtle cracks in their relationship are glaringly exposed at that fateful dinner party, which they're throwing to get their respective families together. Gary wanders in at the last minute - without the lemons for the centrepiece! - and slobs out on the couch instead of helping set the table. He starts a row over dinner about the pool table he wants to put in the living room. Finally, the last straw, he only offers to help wash the dishes when Brooke nags him about it. "Okay, I'll help", he grumbles. "I want you to want to help do the dishes", she explains, exasperated. "Why would I want to do dishes?", he asks, bemused.

The Break-Up begins with a dynamite concept, promising to tackle a side of relationships we see all too little in mainstream comedies, namely the end of them. Does it deliver on its promise? Yes and no. This is after all a big budget studio film aimed at the multiplexes, with two big stars, a director known for light entertainments like Bring It On and the almost mandatory PG-13 rating, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that it skirts the issues, plays it safe and cops out at the end. The War Of The Roses, this is not. On the other hand, it's light entertainment with more of an edge than we usually get, the two big stars are both on good form and the film does deliver a healthy supply of laughs.

The best material comes at the beginning: the actual break-up is both funny and painful to watch. It captures well the feeling you get watching the doomed relationships of your friends reach critical mass. Screenwriters Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender show some amusing insights into what makes the two sexes tick. Women will likely be nodding as Brooke complains about her lazy, immature, selfish boyfriend taking her for granted. I know for sure men will completely understand Gary's frustration at being expected to read his girlfriend's mind and his reluctance to become a modern woman's domesticated "partner" (is it just me who hates that word?).

The movie develops into a battle of wills between the two former lovers, still sharing the same apartment as they wait for it to sell, both trying to one-up the other. Gary insists on watching sports till 2am in the living room. Brooke invites her camp brother and his close harmony choir to hold their singing practice in her bedroom early in the morning. This is funny stuff but the movie starts to show its own subtle cracks. It cops out surprisingly early by having Brooke confide in her friends that she wants Gary back and that the point of the break-up is to teach him a lesson. This takes a lot of the sting (and the fun) out of the film.

I think the most crucial way the script goes wrong is that it tells Gary's story at the expense of Brooke's. I sympathised with him from the start and initially I put that down to me being a man but after a while I realised the movie wasn't about them, it was about him. This is supposed to be the story of a couple - the ads tell us to pick a side - but it isn't, it's about Gary's development from overgrown adolescent to sensitive grown-up.

That's disappointing for a couple of reasons. One: because it reduces a provocative film to just another Hollywood comedy about a flawed guy learning to be better (like Liar Liar, As Good As It Gets, Bruce Almighty, etc, etc, etc). Two: because it whitewashes Brooke. She's the good guy here - she isn't given any real flaws of her own, other than her failure to put her foot down with Gary earlier. Not only is that unfair to us blokes, it shows a common inability on the part of male writers to create a flawed, three-dimensional woman with her own character arc. Look at the complex characters Aniston has played in The Good Girl and Friends With Money and compare them to what she plays here. Brooke's a plot device too much of the time, she's there to be the catalyst for Gary's change and her actions sometimes don't even make sense. This leaves the movie feeling strangely lop-sided.

Reservations aside, The Break-Up is worth seeing. The script's problems don't extend to the dialogue, which is sharp and funny, and Peyton Reed proves again that he's a good director of comedy. The actors are teriffic. Among the supporting cast, the standouts are Judy Davis, Jason Bateman and Vince Vaughn's Swingers buddy Jon Favreau. The film belongs to its two stars however. Vaughn gives a superb comic performance as an edgy, down to earth guy with a testosterone surplus - the amazing thing is he must have played a dozen such characters and he never seems to be repeating himself. This is his warmest, most sympathetic role. Jennifer Aniston is just as good, working with weaker material. The scene in which she breaks down in front of Gary demonstrates what this film could have been. Aniston's work in The Break-Up and Friends With Money suggest she's just one great role away from putting Rachel from Friends in the past and becoming a major film actress.

Overall

6

out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:53:22

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