Break-Up, The (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

If you have a powerful desire to see Jennifer Aniston's bare butt, The Break-Up is not to be missed. But if the former Mrs. Pitt's posterior isn't high on your list of sights to see, the film is better left to unspool in theaters unviewed. The Break-Up is like Danny DeVito's The War of the Roses, but without the wit, the acid, and the blacker-than-black humor. In fact, The Break-Up is most effective when it lumbers into the realm of melodrama, which it does a few times too often for something being touted as a "romantic comedy." For a movie with that label, there's surprisingly little romance, and less comedy. There may be a laugh or two sprinkled throughout but, for the most part, on those occasions when the script tries to be funny, the attempts are thin and awkward. More surprising, however, is the fact that The Break-Up doesn't try hard or often to solicit chuckles. There are times when its seriousness is almost unsettling.

The film begins with the obligatory "meet cute." Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) lay eyes upon one another at Wrigley Field, as the Cubs are in the process of being mauled. One opening credit sequence later, they are living together - the perfect couple in the perfect relationship until one disastrous evening. There are issues, and they all come pouring out in one knock-down drag-out argument. Brooke thinks Gary is a thoughtless slob who never goes anywhere with her, never helps out around the house, and would rather lie on the couch in his underwear playing video games than do the dishes. Gary thinks Brooke is too controlling, too rigid, and doesn't appreciate him. She breaks up with him, but neither is willing to move out of the condo they co-own. So they stake out their territory and try to figure out ways to drive the other person off the premises. If the storyline sounds derivative of a sit-com, that's because it is, right down to the underdeveloped characters.

In 1989, Danny DeVito directed Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in the underrated The War of the Roses, which employed a similar premise. After watching the earlier film, it's easy to see where The Break-Up goes wrong. It pulls its punches. It wants the audience to like the characters. It loses its edge and becomes sappy. And it includes too many scenes that don't work and seem to go on forever. (Consider, for example, the family dinner in which Brooke's brother starts a sing-along, or the tense "game night" when Gary can't guess Brooke's Pictionary drawing.) Director Peyton Reed (Down with Love) can't figure out what he wants the film to be: a comedy, a romance, or a drama. It ends of being a little of all three, but isn't very good as any of them. The ending, which was apparently re-shot, offers little in the way of a conclusion or a catharsis. Like the rest of the production, it doesn't know which way to lean, so it stumbles down the middle.

In The Good Girl, Aniston proved she has the chops to handle dramatic roles. Occasionally, that ability serves her in The Break-Up. The best sequences by far are those in which Aniston goes for the heartstrings. When she cries, you feel for her. Vaughn, on the other hand, with the exception of the scenes in which he is partnered with old buddy Jon Favreau (playing - you guessed it - Gary's sharp-tongued best friend), seems a little lost. His best comedic part to date was in Wedding Crashers, where he played second fiddle to Owen Wilson. Thrust into the spotlight in The Break-Up, his comedic abilities have diminished. Or maybe it's just that the script fails him. The supporting cast is eclectic: Ann-Margret, Judy Davis, helium-voiced Joey Lauren Adams, Vincent D'Onofrio, Cole Hauser, Jason Bateman, and (drumroll) Peter Billingsley. Yes, that Peter Billingsley - little Ralphie Parker (A Christmas Story), all grown up.

People expecting a riotous evening from The Break-Up are going to be stunned by what ends up on the cinematic menu. Hype and expectations are likely to be the film's biggest enemies because it does not deliver what the advance publicity promises. That in and of itself wouldn't be a bad thing if the movie substituted something of value. Unfortunately, The Break-Up fails to satisfy on any of the many levels on which it could have succeeded. It's an uneven mess with a confused tone. The number of scenes that work are dwarfed by those that don't, and some nice acting by Aniston is wasted. The Break-Up is too badly fractured to be deemed repairable.

Break-Up, The (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2006-06-02
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1