In most romantic comedies, some find themselves pining for the two leads to finally put their differences aside and reunite, slow dancing while an overused R&B tune plays in the background and the comic relief best friend tells a last joke. It's a genre that's been done to death, of course, but perfectly enjoyable when all the elements are in alignment. When the elements aren't there, however, the result is fairly ugly. The Break-Up -- a solid argument against real-life couples being allowed to play opposite each other in purportedly romantic films -- spends about five minutes setting up Vince Vaughn
and Jennifer Aniston
as a couple and then proceeds to fill the rest of its running time with all the reasons why they really should break up; and well before it's over you'll be wishing they'd just call it quits.
Accomplishing the quite difficult task of neutering the normally volcanic presence that is Vaughn and further dampening Aniston's already meek comedic abilities, The Break-Up takes some quite considerable assets and squanders them completely. Vaughn and Aniston play Gary and Brooke, a couple who meet-cute at a Cubs game, are shacked up together in a nice downtown condo before the end of the credits, and are relentlessly bickering and splitting up just a few minutes later. Vaughn plays Gary as a more muted and oafish version of his standard motormouth self -- not a pleasant creation -- which leads one to believe that the film will eventually allow him to use his charm to win back the uptight and angry but still in-love Brooke. The critic's oath precludes this writer from giving away the admittedly surprising (though not necessarily in a good way) ending, but what can be said is that little in this film goes as expected. Article continues below
The jury-rigged patchwork of scenes starts off poorly with a tense family dinner party whose primary purpose is to allow John Michael Higgins, a Christopher Guest regular, time for a funny but utterly beside the point musical number, and just goes downhill from there. Scenes that start interestingly -- such as a potentially hilarious one in a nightclub with Gary's creepy idiot brother (a surprisingly funny Cole Hauser
) -- have a tendency to trail off without resolution or explanation. The whole thing is done without much style, surprising given that director Peyton Reed
(Bring It On, Down with Love) has in his checkered past shown at the very least an ability to bring an energy and verve to his movies that is entirely lacking here.
With the exception of a couple of scenes with Vaughn and Jon Favreau
(as a slightly psychotic bartender/best friend), there's little enough real humor to call this woeful little orphan a comedy, and only the faintest glimmerings of romance. In fact, what comes seeping through all the film's disjointed seams is a melancholic mood, egged on by Jon Brion's haunting score, seemingly composed for another film entirely. Completely out of their element are Vincent D'Onofrio, who seems to think that bundling up a pile of neuroses and tics can make a performance, and Judy Davis, giving a far better and nuanced performance than called for in her too-small role as Brooke's diva of a boss. She must have thought she was performing in a real film, poor thing.