Let's consider films about relationships for a moment. The vast majority of people go to films for an escape. Our lives have enough monotony, problems, banality; we don't generally want to see more of the same when we are spending time and money for a temporary escape from reality. We want to see Clark Gable sweep Vivian Leigh into her arms and walk up that staircase. We want to see Fred sweep Ginger into his arms and waltz across the shiny black dance floor, followed closely behind by dozens of similar couples dressed in tuxedos and ball gowns. We want to see Paul Henreid light two cigarettes and offer one to Bette Davis. We want to see people fall in love because our own lives have too many problems. We need the dream of a better time and place. Sure, these films depict a certain amount of disagreement or conflict, they have to keep our interest after all, but they aren't only about that. Everyone has had a relationship break up and it isn't something you probably want to relive again.
"The Break-Up" is about two people ending a relationship and then spending the next few weeks making each other's lives hell. Why? Because they are co-owners of their condos and neither wants to give it up. Their solution? Try to drive the other person out. There are two ways for this premise to work. Either the funny way; we laugh at their outrageous behavior throughout. Or the dramatic way; we go to see an independent film at an art house theater starring two up and coming actors, or Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup. Clearly, with Universal Pictures putting up the money and Vaughn and Aniston fronting the film, the second route isn't going to work. Yet, the filmmakers want it both ways, but both ideas are only pursued half-heartedly.
Vince Vaughn's name is all over this film, so we must look at it as his brainchild. He co-wrote the story, is listed as one of the producers and stars in it. The film opens with an amusing scene depicting how Gary (Vaughn) and Brooke (Aniston) met at a Cubs game. During the credits, we see a series of photos depicting their relationship. As the film begins, Gary returns home from a long day of leading bus tours around Chicago, to find Brooke preparing an elaborate dinner for their two families, to bring them together at long last. Brooke is amazed to learn Gary brought home only three lemons instead of the requested twelve. Their fight is interrupted by the arrival of the families. How long have these two been together? There are an awful lot of pictures over the credits and they have purchased property together, so you would think they have been together at least a year. Yet, their families have never met?
Aniston's portrayal is good, certainly better than in "Rumor Has It" and "Derailed", but the performance is very similar to that of Rachel in "Friends". Imagine all of the bad moments from the Rachel - Ross relationship strung together and you will begin to get a picture of the Brooke and Gary relationship.
"The Break-Up" would be more bearable to watch as a drama. But because of economics, the studio is marketing it as a comedy. Vaughn and Aniston are known for their comedic work, so it makes it easier to market the film. The problem is it isn't very funny.
As the family dinner progresses, Brooke's brother, Richard (John Michael Higgins) proceeds to demonstrate how much he loves his acapella group. He gets Mom (Ann-Margaret) into the act, and grandpa, each providing a different background beat. He even manages to get Gary's brothers into the act; Dennis (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Lupus (Cole Hauser) join in to Gary's amazement. This scene is amusing, but it smacks of desperation, almost as though Vaughn realized one of the funniest scenes in "Wedding Crashers" was the family dinner scene and tried to replicate it. Strangely, Ann-Margaret's character is never seen again.
This is one of those comedies with a large cast, in which every character is meant to provide one or two laughs and then disappear for the mechanics of the story to work out. John Michael Higgins is, perhaps, the most successful. Clearly, the studio agrees as his big scene is featured prominently in the trailer. Judy Davis pops up as Brooke's eccentric boss. She is amusing, but her big scene seems copied from a similar scene in "The 40 Year Old Virgin". Justin Long has a funny bit as the gay receptionist at the gallery owned by Judy Davis' character. Cole Hauser's character comes across as merely perverted, rather than a funny pervert. Vincent D'Onofrio's character is strange and I'm not quite sure what he is supposed to contribute. Joey Lauren Adams plays Brooke's sister and relationship counselor. Jon Favreau pops up as Gary's best friend, who provides him with the moral compass he requires but this develops very late. Too late. The role is amusing, but it is more a dramatic convention than a funny addition. Justin Bateman appears as another friend and the couple's realtor. Another forgettable character played by a recognizable face.
As the film unspooled through the projector, and I began to fidget in my seat, I realized this film is a disaster; the filmmakers clearly envisioned a mix of dramatic scenes interspersed with a series of highly comical set pieces. But there are two problems with this set-up, the funny pieces aren't, and they feel copied from more successful comedies. I get the feeling if they could have thrown in a scene involving Justin Long and some sort of baked goods they would have. And the dramatic scenes are mostly painful to watch, bringing up memories of our own personal problems. As the film continued on and on, and Brooke and Gary proceeded to try one scheme after another, to drive the other out, the film makes a lame attempt to convince us that they actually care about one another and simply want to get back together. Okay, that raises the interest level a little. But when this storyline doesn't play out, you will realize something else.
"The Break-up" isn't a four hour film. It only seems that way.
How long before Jennifer Aniston is begging to do the "Friends" reunion film? At this rate, not very.