Is there a film title this year riper with pathos than The Break-Up? It seems like just yesterday that Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt were announcing that their Hollywood romance was on the rocks, generating screaming headlines in the tabloids. Now those headlines have been paraphrased into a movie title, released just a week after Aniston’s former flame has a child with his scarlet woman, Angelina Jolie. It’s almost as if the great publicist in the sky said, “OK, I’ll cut you a break here. Your last two movies have flopped so here is an ironic title and a serendipitous birth to stir up some hype. Good luck.”
The Break-Up is being marketed as a romantic comedy, but really it is more a battle of the sexes—make that exes—with more in common with The War of the Roses, a nasty divorce movie from a decade ago, than a traditional romantic comedy. Imagine if Ingmar Bergman had directed When Harry Met Sally.
The romance part of the film is dismissed early on with a montage of pictures of the couple in their salad days, holding hands, kissing, on vacation. The viewer gets the idea that they were once a happy pair, but fifteen minutes into the film after a screaming match following a disastrous dinner party their union is shattered. Brooke (Aniston) still loves Gary (Vaughn) but wants him to learn to respect her. He’s a man-child who doesn’t get it and their relationship frays into a he said/she said battle in which ownership of their beautiful condo becomes the main issue.
The movie has an odd tone, at once playing on the strengths of its stars—Vaughn is once again the fast-talking charmer, Aniston the pretty, girl-next-door type—while also playing them against type. Vaughn crosses the line from charmer to homophobic jerk, a guy so obnoxious the audience is actually happy during a scene in which he gets beaten up. Aniston effortlessly handles the comedic portion of her role and is quite good in the dramatic bits, but I’m not sure that given her recent real-life romantic history that audiences want to see Rachel… rather Aniston break down into tears over a man.
There are laughs here, particularly in the scenes between Vaughn and his Swingers’ co-star Jon Favreau, but they are generally followed by long stretches of uncomfortable tension. Because we see so little of the couple in the honeymoon phase of the relationship, when things go sour we don’t really care. It’s like watching strangers argue in a restaurant. You may be compelled to look in that train wreck kind of way, but ultimately it is unaffecting.
This is a perfect date movie if you plan on dumping the person you’re with when the movie is over.
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