The gimmick behind Peyton Reed's The Break-Up is so simplistic and obvious that it's been used as sitcom filler for the past 40 years: Two lovers/roommates have a huge falling out, but find themselves stuck living together in the same domicile. I kept waiting for someone to show up and say "OK fine, I'm gonna paint a line down the middle of the room, and this side is MINE and that side is YOURS." Fortunately The Break-Up is just a little bit smarter than your average sitcom, plus it's got a sterling silver ensemble cast that salvages the flick at every turn.
Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston star as a pair of young lovers who, after a particularly lame dinner party, have a massive argument and then decide to break up. But the condo they share is so amazingly perfect, plus its denizens are decidedly pig-headed head-butters, so Gary and Brooke try to live together without tearing each other's throats out.
That's pretty much it, plot-wise. The Break-Up is not a particularly deep or densely-layered romantic comedy, but it does manage to mine a personal and familiar place: bickering. We fight because we're annoyed, but we stay because there's still some real love hiding in the background, patiently waiting for the childishness to subside. Pride, jealousy, pettiness, you name it. If you've ever been in love with someone, you've dealt with the arduous emotional bullshit that The Break-Up focuses on.
But wait ... this is a comedy, right? A romantic comedy starring that little ray of sunshine from Friends and that hilariously gangly goofball from Wedding Crashers, right?
Yep, which might explain why The Break-Up falls well short in the "truth & consequences" department, but hey: A for effort, right? Most romantic comedies are content to wade completely into the Moronic Fantasy pool, but The Break-Up earns some extra credit for actually mining a topic that "normal Joe & Jane" might actually be able to recognize.
While I doubt anyone would call The Break-Up "consistently hilarious," the flick maintains a fairly reliable chuckle delivery. Vaughn is his typically amusing motor-mouthed self, only this time he's trying on a T-shirt made of sensitivity, and the thing seems to suit him pretty well. Ms. Aniston is charming and symapthetic ... although she's really not all that funny, truth be told.
But there's a huge chest of buried treasure hidden beneath the floorboards of The Break-Up, and it's a windfall I like to call The Supporting Cast. Not one of the following folks are given enough to do in the flick, as it's basically The Vaughn & Aniston Show all the way, but there's no denying that folks like Jason Bateman, Joey Lauren Adams, Judy Davis, Cole Hauser, Vincent D'Onofrio, John Michael Higgins, and (especially) Jon Favreau and a whole lot of spice to the proceedings. Hell, even Justin Long gets to take the terribly overused "gay receptionist" stereotype and wring a few laughs out of the thing.
Perhaps not as honest or insightful as it could have been, The Break-Up still works better than it reasonably should. It's a paper-thin and somewhat one-note concept, brought to life by a B+ screenplay, a fantastic cast, and a director who's fast becoming an expert in the fine art of cinematic comedy.