Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Break-Up

Title: The Break-Up (2006)
Dir: Peyton Reed
Rating: ** out of 5 stars

For The Diamondback....

If a movie markets itself as a romantic comedy, is it too much to ask that the film be romantic – or at least a comedy? Despite an ad campaign that promises a witty battle-of-the-sexes, The Break-Up offers little more than loathsome characters and painfully awkward moments.

As the title suggests, the entire film centers on the break-up of Gary and Brooke, played by Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. The latter, a successful Chicago art dealer, dotes on her boyfriend endlessly, while he behaves like a slob and dotes on his Playstation.

Almost from the very beginning, the couple argues to the point of separation, although neither really wants to split. What follows is Gary making no attempt to reconcile the break-up, while Brooke tries to make him jealous by bringing dates to their shared condo or walking around naked to entice him.

So why is a classy woman like Brooke trying to win back a jerk like Gary? Clearly their love must run pretty deep – except we the audience have no idea because the love that brought them together is never shown. Their entire two-year relationship is summarized in a series of candid photographs during the opening credits. Cute, sure, but when the first scene of the film shows them breaking into a heated argument, it is difficult to care.

It is even more difficult to sympathize with Gary, who comes across as a selfish bastard too stubborn to apologize to poor Brooke. A female bias is clearly at work here. Without Gary’s side of the story, he becomes consistently unlikable. Making your lead comedic actor loathsome to the viewer is just not a smart move by the filmmakers.

Vaughn does deliver a few funny lines, but do not expect a laugh-fest on the level of Wedding Crashers. There is nothing raunchy or zany about The Break-Up. Kudos to the film for attempting to show the ugly side of people and relationships, but it is ultimately dragged down by an excess of drama.

Every time Gary and Brooke break into an argument, the moment becomes instantly uncomfortable for the viewer. Imagine being stuck at a party where the host couple fights bitterly and you’re forced to awkwardly watch. Now imagine spending nine dollars and two hours to watch that. You get that same painful feeling watching this film. Sure, the fights may be realistic and relatable, but if you walk into the theater expecting laughs and a good time, you will be disappointed.

Aniston is never allowed to be funny in this, presumably because the filmmakers depended on Vaughn to deliver the laughs. Unfortunately, he lacks even an ounce of wit here. Instead, most of the film’s laughs come courtesy of its supporting actors. As Gary’s brutish best friend Johnny, Jon Favreau (Vaughn’s old Swingers pal) protects his friend like a loyal pit bull by promising to ‘off’ any guy who dates Brooke. The role is small, but lends itself to one of the movie’s funniest moments.

Another memorable scene involves Brooke’s closeted brother Richard (John Michael Higgins, A Mighty Wind) belting out “Owner of a Lonely Heart” to an uncomfortable Gary at the dinner table. Funny as the scene is, you have undoubtedly watched this already in the commercials, just like most the movie’s best jokes.

The Break-Up
boasts an interesting cast of actors, but most are wasted. Jason Bateman (TV’s Arrested Development) appears briefly and not enough. Indie darlings like Judy Davis (Celebrity) and Joey Lauren Adams (Chasing Amy) – both shockingly old - also make small appearances. The best-used cameo is Justin Long (Dodgeball), who portrays a sensitive art gallery receptionist.

Some characters seem to exist only to provoke confused reaction shots from Vaughn. Like Brooke’s singing brother, Gary’s eccentric brother, played by Vincent D’Onofrio (TV’s Law and Order: Criminal Intent) is incredibly weird but for no obvious reason. So weird, in fact, that you might question his mental stability and recall that disturbing Private Pyle character in Full Metal Jacket.

Director Peyton Reed, best known for helming Bring It On, brings nothing to this film. While his style may suit a movie about competitive cheerleading, it is not nearly mature enough to tackle the heavy issues The Break-Up aims for. Scenes and characters are sloppily thrown together, and the film’s conclusion is bound to anger the majority of its audience. The ending itself is not so frustrating as the way it is delivered. In the end, you just feel cheated and let down.

The movie’s occasional laughs cannot save it from the painfully unfunny nagging between the leads. Like watching your parents fight, you’ll want to run to your bedroom and bury your head under a pillow. There is nothing worse than watching a self-proclaimed comedy in a deathly silent movie theater, while the entire audience winces with discomfort. Nobody needs a movie to remind them that breaking up sucks, but a film that finds the humor in that would have been nice.