Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) are a proud, Chicago couple with a condo, a long history together, and an intense dislike for each other's personalities. Faced with a painful break up, the duo look to separate their assets, including dividing up their friends (including Jan Favreau, Joey Lauren Adams, Jason Bateman, and Peter Billingsley) and their living space, all the while torpedoing anything that threatens to ruin the fun of fighting. Confronted with the real possibility that their resentment might lead them to separate for good, Brooke and Gary dig deep within themselves to find out if the relationship is worth fighting for.
There's something rotten about the way "The Break-Up" is being marketed to the public. Looking to coast off the stardust left behind by Vince Vaughn's previous summer smash, "Wedding Crashers," Universal is pimping out "Break-Up" as another lap around the slapstick comedy race track, where everything is happy and smiley, and the goal of the film is to make you cramp with laughing pains.
This film just isn't that.
Conceived and produced by Vaughn, "Break-Up" isn't even a comedy first and foremost, but a strange and piercing odyssey into the cold, black heart of love. Sure, things kick off on a light note: the picture opens with surefire comedic elements, teaming Vaughn and longtime partner Favreau back onscreen (these guys are the Hope and Crosby of their generation), and gives the star a wide berth to wield his machine gun comedic delivery (always with laser-precise aim). The jokes bounce delightfully, silliness mounts swiftly, and the picture promises a river of comedy will follow. Then the leads start yelling at each other.
One of the most difficult aesthetics to cinematically represent, without audiences screaming their way out the exits in droves, is the relationship argument. Watching lovers fight is difficult to render without becoming mean or obnoxious, and any film that can master covering a bitter melee without crumbling into tiny pieces is worthy of honor. "Break-Up" is overflowing with scenes of Gary and Brooke combating, often flat-out screaming at each other, and it's cutting material too, with argument points on the nature of appreciation sure to be felt profoundly by both sexes.
Director Peyton Reed, who hasn't shown any particular directorial ability before ("Bring It On," and the insufferable atom bomb of awful, "Down with Love") skillfully guides these painful moments to a soft landing. If anything, the arguments in "Break-Up" don't stop the film cold as much as Reed's liberal use of unbearable supporting cast members (Judy Davis as Brooke's art gallery boss, Vincent D'Onofrio as Gary's dim older brother) to ham it up for laughs. Reed and Vaughn have a clear idea what this film should say about relationships, and the picture finds clarity and some semblance of originality as it tries to articulate the hypothesis: maybe these two truly don't belong together. Rarely do you see that level of honesty in summertime entertainment.
That's not to say that "Break-Up" is a depressing sit. Yes, the film ceases to be funny quickly, and for extended periods of screentime, but the impressive chemistry between the leads is what keeps the film together and often quite amiable. Vaughn and Aniston are perfectly matched onscreen, tossing barbs with ease and trading razor-sharp knowing looks that could kill. An unfairly neglected talent, Aniston is achingly emotionally authentic in the film, and she's one of the few female talents around who is able to keep up with Vaughn's onslaught of verbal fastballs.
Since Reed never blows the good will of the film by shoving the material towards despair, the "Break-Up" is able to locate some important emotional cues the viewer can embrace. Obviously, this is a film perfect for anyone who has been through a bad split. More interestingly though, "Break-Up" could be viewed as the ultimate romantic comedy; the rare picture that makes one thank heaven for all the good relationships they've managed to luck into.
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