When a film touts such names as Vince Vaughn (“Wedding Crashers”), Jennifer Aniston (“Friends”), Jon Favreau (“Swingers”), and Joey Lauren Adams (“Chasing Amy”), you go to see it expecting a comedy. Particularly when the trailer, which has been played ad nauseum, contains line after line of funny bits. But it’s a stretch to call these actors’ latest film – “The Break-Up” – a romantic comedy. It has a few laugh-out-loud moments – the ones you’ve see in the trailer – but for the most part, it’s simply an honest look at how two people can just as easily fall out of love as they did in it.Gary (Vaughn) and his pal Johnny O (Favreau) are at a Chicago Cubs baseball game, when Gary spies Brooke (Aniston). Trying to get her attention, he orders six hot dogs and loudly offers her one. After the game, he corners her and convinces her to dump her plaid-shorts wearing boyfriend and go out with him. She does. We know this because the opening credits are shown over snapshots of the lovebirds celebrating various occasions. (Here director Peyton Reed goes a bit over the top, practically hitting us over the head with “look how happy they are.”) But there’s a storm on the horizon. Wanting to bring their families closer together, Brooke has arranged a joint dinner that she’s slaved over. Not only has she put in a full day at work, but she’s also cleaned the condo and prepared the meal. All Gary has to do is bring home 12 lemons. He brings three.
Throughout the evening more things go wrong, and after a shouting match, Brooke decides that’s it; she’s tired of doing everything and never once getting any appreciation or help in return. (Here is where most women will be internally shouting “You go girl.”) But Brooke doesn’t really want to leave Gary – she loves him – she just wants him to change. She wants him to take her to the ballet; to want to help her do the dishes; to give her flowers. Gary doesn’t know what’s she talking about. Making this “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus” situation even worse is the fact that both take bad advice from various friends and colleagues and soon the situation is beyond repair.
The biggest flaw of “The Break-Up” is the way it is being promoted. A lot of people who go, expecting Vaughn to act a buffoon, will come away feeling angry and duped. Instead if you realize that you’re not in for another warm and fuzzy rom-com, you might be surprised by the film’s realism. Many of the fights that erupt between Vaughn and Aniston’s characters seem to be ripped from a marriage counselor’s diary. There’s a sort of revenge element to “The Break-Up” but it’s mild. This isn’t a black comedy, because the characters never go for the jugular like they do in “The War of the Roses” or, my personal favorite, “Addicted to Love.” This is a film about two people who probably love each other but don’t know how to communicate, and that’s why it’s so realistic and just a little bit depressing.
The performances are the selling point for “The Break-Up” and both leads are very good. But it is really everyone else who makes this one noteworthy, especially Judy Davis, Justin Bateman, a virtually unrecognizable Justin Long (“Jeepers Creepers”), and the always dependable Vincent D’Onofrio, who is at his quirky best. The film had flaws, certainly, but I applaud it for eschewing the classic rom-com formula. I’d like to think it’s the future of chick-flicks, but I doubt it.