The Break-up

June, 2006, Comedy

Directed by:Peyton Reed

Starring:Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston

The Break-Up

Actor Vince Vaughn is an anomaly; tall, overweight and lacking conventional movie-style good looks, Vaughn has nevertheless compiled an extensive list of credits in his still relatively young career ranging from brooding psychopath, (Norman Bates in the re-make of Psycho) to buffoonish bachelor, (The Wedding Crashers). He’s also one of the leading figures in something Hollywood publicity flacks call “The Fratpack”, a loose collection of 30-something stars, (Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Will Farrell, Owen and Luke Wilson, etc.) who appear in each other’s comedic films. What’s his secret of his success?

Vaughn’s motor-mouth persona and 6’ 5” bulk provide the answer; oblivious to the feelings of others and perfectly willing to use his physical bulk as casual intimidation, a Vaughn character comes equipped with sufficient insight to recognize the absurdity of others’ behavior without being able to see and accept his own. That combination of perspicacity and juvenile self-absorption finds its best expression in his stream of consciousness harangues, which he uses to browbeat the more socially conventional while unconsciously betraying his own manifest shortcomings. It’s a clever shtick and he’s groomed it to perfection; once again, audiences here get Vaughn playing Vaughn.

As Gary Grobowski, the centerpiece in a three-brother, Chicago-based business partnership, Vaughn puts his carnival barker’s verbal swagger on display at Wrigley Field when he rudely but shrewdly picks up Brooke Meyers, (Jennifer Aniston) who’s attending the game with a nebbishly dressed date. Romance ensues and before the credits have ended, Brooke and Gary have purchased a lovely condo and established what used to be called “light housekeeping”. Marriage and lifelong commitment seem imminent, but Gary’s penchant for allowing Brooke to do all the heavy lifting in their relationship leads to a blow-up witnessed by members of both their families and a subsequent no-holds-barred struggle which pits them, (plus their respective friends) in a contest to see which one will back down first. 

As recriminations escalate, screenwriters Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender execute a deft movie for a romantic movie - - they allow the deterioration in this relationship to reach its logical conclusion, from which the movie gets its title. Love doesn’t die exactly; it just oozes away like the gas in a slowly deflating helium party balloon. 

As Brooke, Anniston delivers another in her patented series of pretty face, bland personality roles; she’s in danger of becoming terminally irrelevant because her range as an actress just doesn’t appear to permit fresh interpretation. She’s unquestionably attractive but the Barbie Doll persona was growing old at the end of the Friends T.V. series and if this is her idea of a breakout role, she needs to develop a new playbook. Unlike her co-star, there just isn’t much that screenwriters can do with her one-note character in order to keep interest in her at sufficient levels to merit leading lady status.

Fortunately, these two branded screen personalities are surrounded by a host of genuinely funny supporting actors in wonderfully written roles; Jon Favreau shines as Gary’s fire-plug, philosopher friend while Judy Davis, as Brooke’s boss, does a hilarious turn as a Diana Vreeland-ish art gallery owner. Jason Bateman and John Michael Higgins shine is parts far too small for their brilliant, dead-pan turns. More focus on these cleverly developed secondary characters could have added a great deal to the proceedings.

In the end, The Break-Up gets an A-minus for supporting performances, a B+ for the courage of its downbeat conclusion, but a C-minus for the work of its two leads. Even the interest in their closely followed and highly publicized off-screen romance doesn’t merit the money you’d have to pay to see this one on the big screen. Fitfully clever, Break-Up ultimately sinks under the carefully nurtured pretensions of its stars’ characters. 

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