By Matt Singer
[Photo: Universal Pictures, 2006]
Directed by Peyton Reed
In retrospect the marketing for “The Break-Up,” the “romantic” “comedy” starring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, was at best an act of desperation and at worst an outright deception. Commercials, trailers and posters positioned the film as a charmingly playful battle of the sexes; these images, while present in the film, were anomalies in an otherwise dark and surprisingly serious look at a rocky relationship. They (deviously and, yes, ingeniously) sold a picture that didn’t exist; no wonder many audiences were disappointed by the end result. “The Break-Up” is, in fact, a mature, honest story of a couple’s turbulent end. In other words, everything a real romantic comedy is not.
Vaughn and Aniston meet at Wrigley Field. Vaughn inhabits the charmingly overbearing persona he’s honed in “Swingers” and last year’s “Wedding Crashers”; Aniston utilizes her sheepish mode, previously deployed in “Office Space,” “Bruce Almighty,” and others. Standard romantic comedies end immediately after the couples get together, because it’s generally agreed-upon that it’s all downhill from there (or, at the very least, right boring). “The Break-Up” takes the opposite tact, beginning at the beginning, but only momentarily; after an opening credits montage of candid, happy snapshots, director Peyton Reed jumps right to the juicy stuff, the point when practical neat freak Brooke and goofy slob Gary realize they aren’t awfully compatible. Each has an equal stake in their gorgeous Chicago condo, both refuse to leave. Their break-up is peppered lightly with the moments from the trailer that made it seem like a fun romp Brooke’s flamboyant (but not gay) brother Richard (a note-perfect John Michael Higgins), her attempt to drive Gary mad with lust with a “Telly Savalas” wax job. But the bulk of the film is two unhappy people venting their frustration on one another.
Granted, “The Break-Up” isn’t Cassavetes, but it’s not that far off, and even offering that comparison in the context of a big budget Hollywood comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston is remarkable in and of itself. At times you wish Reed and Vaughn (who also serves as a co-producer and co-writer) were willing to push it farther, to be more conceptual. Most of the film is set in the couple’s condo, but the movie might have been even better if the whole thing was set there, if their angst and bitterness was completely inescapable. Still, only the test audience-approved ending feels like a Hollywood copout.
The movie is particularly a revelation for Vaughn who after “Wedding Crashers” could have easily milked his persona for the next five years. Gary starts off quite close to “Crashers”‘ Jeremy, his slothy charm working overtime. But the process of breaking-up with Brooke reveals Vaughn’s persona’s shallowness, his inability to connect with other human beings. Jon Favreau, who’s played Vaughn’s foil in two previous films, gets to act as his bartending psychiatrist, diagnosing the problems in Gary and Jeremy and all the rest that we were too blinded by charisma to see.
By the time I saw “The Break-Up,” the deceitful advertising had been counteracted by friends who’d seen the picture, been surprised by it, but impressed all the same. Word-of-mouth, on the other hand, could have sold this picture just as easily as hollow promises. “The Break-Up” grossed more than $100 million. Imagine what the film might have made if Hollywood had trusted the quality of the film, and the intelligence of the audience. The DVD includes commentary by Vaughn and Aniston, an alternate ending, deleted scenes, outtakes, improv with Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, and a tour of Chicago.
“The Break-Up” is available on DVD October 17th.