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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "The Break-Up" (2005)

When Hollywood makes a romantic comedy, it usually almost never resembles the life you and I lead. I say that, of course, assuming the person reading this is not appallingly cute, has a cushy job that affords them an outrageously luxurious condominium (not to mention unlimited free time) or who has at least one highly effeminate male co-worker. If this does describe you, well then Hollywood has been getting every rom-com nuance right for decades and I humbly retract that statement (although I did say “almost never”). For the rest of us, Hollywood’s version of love and romance remains an alienating, starry-eyed view of the world in which good looking people always find a way to wind up together, because scientifically-proven test screenings demand they do.

This is the world Hollywood lives in, so when I see a movie like “The Break-Up,”, I expect nothing more and nothing less. Movies like this exist to be cute and to showcase the talents of two very charming, good-looking people as they bicker and banter about their superficial relationship. I’m okay with that, just so you know. I don’t have an elitist grudge against these kinds of films, except that they’re usually as bland and nondescript as a Matchbox 20 song. But people like this kind of escapist entertainment on a Friday night and I suppose you could do a heck of a lot worse. There’s always Tyler Perry.

I tend to take movies about relationships and break-ups seriously these days and I expect a certain amount of authenticity even in the tiniest details, but it’s hard to expect that when the movie has high-profile stars, has been marketed to death, comes from a major studio (Universal) and has an early-June release date with no competition in sight for its opening weekend. You can’t expect this kind of movie about breaking up to capture the inescapable pain of separation that occurs with every morning spent alone with nothing planned for the day and no one else around. This will not be the cinematic equivalent to Beck’s devastating “Sea Change” album. This is more like a cinematic equivalent to Rob Becker’s thoroughly innocuous and shallow one-man show Defending the Caveman.

In it, Chicago tourguide Gary (Vince Vaughn) meets art gallery dealer Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) at a Cubs game, buys her a hot dog and talks his way into her life. Fast-forward through the opening credits and they now live together. Brooke and Gary’s families are coming over for dinner and she wants Gary to help out in the kitchen. This leads to their first fight in which Gary makes it known that he is too tired and just needs 20 minutes to relax. The family arrives before this fight can escalate into a brawl, but the tension lingers.

Of course, within the family lurks at least one obnoxious and unfunny closeted gay character, in this case Brooke’s brother Richard (John Michael Higgins), who sings in an a-capella group and who isn’t shy about singing Yes’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart” out loud at the dinner table. This takes up way too much time in the movie and basically just works as a long set-up for an unfunny incident later on (if you’ve seen only half of the seven trailers for this film, you already know what happens to Gary). The families leave and Brooke and Gary continue their fight, which leads to the inevitable break-up.

Rather than either of them moving out of the condo, they reluctantly cohabitate and go to extremes to make the other person jealous by going out on a series of dates or by inviting bimbos over for strip poker. Gary confides in his bartending buddy Johnny (Jon Favreau) while Brooke has her best friend Maddie (Joey Lauren Adams) to lean on and to bail her out of dates that don’t work out. None of this behavior really leads anywhere or is meant to expand the depth of their relationship or even the characters as individuals. The behavior exists because it’s cute.

The movie gives us no reason to believe these two ever had chemistry. In order for the audience to truly appreciate what the break-up means for these two people, we have to know what’s at stake. Should we be rooting for them to get back together because they were so good together, or because they simply look good together? All I really know about Gary is that he runs a Chicago tourguide with his brothers and that he can crack wise. All I know about Brooke is that she works in an art gallery and can stand her ground in an argument. Where did these two people come from? What does this relationship mean to them?

Only in the film’s final 20 minutes does anything ever ring true. Vaughn has some wonderful, heartfelt moments where he lets his guard down while Anniston likewise conveys the pain of heartbreak that she has always been good at. This is kind of a rare movie though, in that most mediocre-to-bad movies fall apart after the first 20 minutes, whereas this movie gets a lot better in its final 20 minutes. I just sat there thinking "Where was THIS movie?" Unfortunately, it’s not enough to win me over. I can’t recommend this film with a “starts out rough, but gets better” kind of review. I can only recommend better, more honest, truthful and sincere movies about breaking up.

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While the movie does have some laughs and moments of genuine charm, it completely misses its mark where it’s important. The time to write a break-up movie is when you’re going through it, but screenwriters Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender seemed to have conceived most of this film out of thin air. Whatever grounding it has seems to be an afterthought. Director Peyton Reed, who has made two good films before this (“Bring It On” and “Down With Love), doesn’t add much to the material. Likewise, the city of Chicago is given the usual tourist treatment, with the exception of the Riviera Theater (“the Riv”) playing a part in the third act.

As of this writing, the movie has one sole blurb on its ads and it comes from Maxim Magazine. Such an endorsement should not be taken too seriously. This movie and that magazine have roughly the same insight into relationships, that women don’t communicate openly and men don’t understand women’s feelings (actually, I might be giving Maxim too much credit). The movie will likely leave single people thanking their lucky stars that they’re single, but will probably give the couples out there with little to discuss other than what to eat once the movie has ended. In other words, it’s your typical Hollywood romantic comedy.

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