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Reevaluating “The Break-Up”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Universal Pictures, 2006]

The Break-Up

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.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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