The Break-Up

2006_the_break_up_006Ten years after Swingers, with summer hits like Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers under his belt, Vince Vaughn is apparently a Hollywood player — measurable, in part, by a star’s ability to get a project off the ground. The Break-Up is Vaughn’s baby; he coproduced it and worked out the story with scripters Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender. It should surprise no one that Vaughn, who has an oily charm in comedic roles and an effective nervous tension in dramatic ones, has put together a comedy-drama for himself that takes advantage of most of what he has to offer as an actor, but doesn’t push him an inch beyond that. In The Break-Up, Vaughn’s standard lovable jerk is shown to be not so lovable on occasion, but since the emphasis is always on him, the movie comes across as an odd mix of star vehicle and self-flagellation. It’s painless where it shouldn’t be and painful where it shouldn’t be.

Vaughn is Gary, a Chicago tour-bus guide who, at the film’s start, works his bad-boy charm on art-gallery assistant Brooke (Jennifer Aniston). She falls for him and his line of patter, some time passes, and they wind up sharing a spacious condo — though on their salaries, I have to wonder about that. The movie gets going when Brooke gets tired of always being the responsible one in the relationship — the one who cooks, cleans, and basically enables Gary’s protracted adolescence. The Break-Up seems to be missing its first half, where Brooke’s resentments would be allowed to build naturally instead of seemingly arriving in a sneak attack, though I suppose the point is that all of this is news to Gary. Harsh words are exchanged, and the pair now find themselves sharing opposite ends of the spacious condo when neither one will move out.

The movie has very little time to devote to Brooke, though we get a few scenes of her commiserating with best bud Joey Lauren Adams (who I never thought I’d see playing a voice of wisdom with a husband and two kids, but time does fly). The Break-Up is mainly about Gary and how he has to change his ways if he hopes to win Brooke back. To its credit, the film gives Brooke’s complaints their due. But Brooke is at fault on some level here, too; obviously there hasn’t been much communication in this relationship, and communication is supposed to go both ways. If Brooke hasn’t established her needs and wants, she can hardly be surprised if Gary doesn’t know what they are. The movie, however, assumes that only Gary needs refurbishing.

Director Peyton Reed assembles a large supporting cast (including Ann-Margret, looking animatronic) and then trots them out to do their specialties, scarcely letting them interact with anyone but Gary or Brooke. Judy Davis, who deserves better, does her pinched-urban-woman number as Brooke’s boss at the gallery; Cole Hauser and Vincent D’Onofrio are wasted as Gary’s brothers (and partners in the tour-bus business). The reteaming of Vaughn and his Swingers and Made cohort Jon Favreau promises more rapport than we get, since the rough bartender Favreau is playing doesn’t give Vaughn as much to play off. In any event, Vaughn dominates all his scenes; when he isn’t around, we’re in a different movie about Brooke selling art and going on mortifying dates.

The Break-Up clearly wants to be more intelligent than it is, but its status as a summer comedy dictates not one but two swishy gay stereotypes, one of whom cements his obnoxiousness by singing “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and then karate-chopping Gary in the throat. A scene in which Brooke tortures herself (via bikini waxing) in order to torture Gary (by strolling past him naked) makes little sense and is merely part of the movie’s tepid War of the Roses midsection wherein the couple behave like vengeful teenagers. And the movie won’t add anything to gender enlightenment: Gary is all about sports and videogames, Brooke likes ballet — and that’s about all she seems interested in that doesn’t have anything to do with Gary. The Break-Up is unique, I suppose, in one respect: most movies of this type make you wonder why the estranged couple have come apart; this one makes you wonder why the hell they were ever together.

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