Saturday, 26 May 2007
The Break-Up (2006) dir. Peyton Reid
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston
“The Break Up” was unrightfully put into the ‘romantic-comedy’ genre box upon its release, and though the film made over $100m in domestic theatres (mainly because of the Vince Vaughn/Jennifer Aniston press at the time) the film was critically dumped on and received less than favourable word of mouth from audiences. Well I’m writing to set the record straight that “The Break-Up” is worthy of a second look and a rediscovery as a thoughtful and entertaining (and realistic) domestic comedy more in the Woody Allen tradition than, say, a Julia Roberts rom-com.
From the opening photo montage of digital stills Gary and Brooke are in a healthy relationship. Gary is a working-class, alpha-male, who co-runs a Chicago tour bus service and Brooke is a beautiful and educated middle-class art gallery manager. After establishing the characters as such, they soon engage in an unruly domestic fight after they host the first meeting of their parents. The dinner scene with the families is a classic stand-alone piece of comedy, specifically John Michael Higgins’ hilarious rendition of Yes’ “Owner of Lonely Heart” A Capella. But afterwards tempers boil over when Brooke chastises Gary for not contributing or appreciating the work she did in preparing for the dinner. The argument isn’t out of the blue, in fact, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, and, as a result, Brooke breaks up with Gary right there and then.
As usual the couple split up for the night and each seeks refuge with their respective best friends. Addie, (Joey Lauren Adams) and Johnny O (Jon Favreau) become their shoulders to cry on. Each person is frustrated with the other: Gary sees Brooke’s frequent requests to help out around the house as nagging, and Brooke is frustrated with Gary’s increasing selfishness with the relationship. The comic hook occurs when Gary and Brooke each stubbornly refuse to leave their condo and decide to co-habitate despite being broken-up. The second act of the film involves a battle of quid-pro-quo ‘War of the Roses’ one-up-manships. Brooke starts dating other guys to get back at Gary, Gary responds by subverting her attempts by claiming territory in the condo etc etc.
Warning: Spoilers below.
The film runs the path of a romantic comedy but in the third act actually subverts these genre expectations and moves the film in another direction. The film is more tragic than anything else. Like my earlier review of “All the Real Girls” the lack of communication prevents neither Gary nor Brooke from working on their problems to heal and mend their relationship. In the third act, it’s Brooke that makes the first attempts at patching things up, but she is elusive and cryptic and too subtle to penetrate Gary’s self-obsessed mind. By the time Gary realizes his own failings it’s too late. The distance between them is too far for Brooke to go back.
The film is more Woody Allen than Julia Roberts (or rather Garry Marshall), because Gary and Brooke are real people in situations believable and accessible to audiences. We all, as the audience, can imagine ourselves in their position at some point in our lives. All of us are, to some degree, selfish, lazy, over-worked, frustrated, incommunicable, shy, hotheaded, egotistical and unsure of the right thing to do in times of crisis. The characters never receive the magic pixie dust to make things right, and despite the informative advice of their supporting characters Gary and Brooke are left to their own devices to figure things out. And they don’t.
Ironically one of the failings of the film is also its strength and driving force - Vince Vaughn. He is the star of the film and he perfectly captures the essence of the typical alpha-male – outgoing, friendly, extroverted, and funny. It’s easy to see how Brooke fell in love him. But Vaughn also chews the scenery as well, and in almost every tête-à-tête exchange dominates Aniston’s character. It’s no surprise the film is co-written and produced by Vaughn and two of his older male friends. Despite the continuing frustration over Gary’s egregiously selfish behaviour it’s hard to fault in Aniston’s character for any of the arguments. The film could have used a female co-writer to get under the skin of Brooke and reveal her own insecurities and concerns with the relationship. After all, she is in her mid-thirties, unmarried, and at the end of a long relationship. There is much more emotional depth to the ramifications of her actions than just losing a teammate on the bowling team.
Other than this, “The Break-Up” is always smart, always engaging and there’s never a false moment. The film features a series of brilliant comically-timed exchanges of dialogue – both well-written and performed. But the film works because there’s bit of Brooke and Gary in all of us, and it takes a continual and conscious effort not to fall into the hole Brooke and Gary buried for themselves. Enjoy.
Buy it here: The Break-Up (Widescreen Edition)