Joey Lauren Adams
Call it serendipity, payback or one of the savviest marketing ploys in film-making history. How ironic that Brangelina - the most famous couple in the world, who created a bidding war for photos of the most famous celeb-spawn - would get nudged out of the spotlight by Jennifer Aniston and her aptly titled film, The Break-Up during its North American opening weekend.
This former Friends (with money) star seems to have an uncanny knack for picking projects with film titles that will open in sync with her current life state. Revenge must be sweet for Aniston, who inhabits a role other than a real life jilted bride, playing the good girl that dumps a loutish guy clearly not good enough for her. Although her forecasting ability proves to be a rather impressive party trick, perhaps Aniston's time would be better served developing her acting skills. She turns in yet another wan, stilted performance, providing a dull counterpart to a dazzling Vince Vaughn.
Vaughn and Aniston play Chicago couple Gary and Brooke. Gary is a wisecracking, working-class shlub who operates a tour bus company with his two brothers (Vincent D'onofrio and Cole Hauser), and moonlights evenings as a beer swilling couch potato. Brooke is a highly refined art gallery dealer by day - who by night, morphs into the character of Monica on Friends - an anal-retentive, nitpicking nag. The disparity between a perfectly manicured Aniston and Vaughn's flabby, sports-watching, video game-playing lay-about is an alarming contrast.
In an intriguing twist, The Break-Up picks up where most movies leave off. Two years into their relationship, long after boy gets girl, the bloom is off the rose for Gary and Brooke. Happily ever after is a distant memory, and what lies ahead is a trail of balled up, smelly socks and an endless sink full of dirty dishes.
Fed up with Gary who refuses to pitch in at the dinner party she throws for their parents, being so inconsiderate as to bring home only three lemons for a twelve lemon centerpiece, Brooke ends the relationship. Much like the tartar sauce scene in The Weather Man, it is the straw that breaks the camel's back. Yet both refuse to move out of the upscale condo they share. Let the games begin.
Vaughn sheds his fangs and claws to take on his first role as a leading man. It's a marked departure from the beloved character he has made famous in Swingers, Wedding Crashers, and Made. And even if baby's only had one note up until now - it has always been a funny note that has yet to grow tiresome. Nothing is better than seeing Vaughn chew up the scenery with his eviscerating, trademark dialogue, so it's no wonder that it proves somewhat unsatisfying to watch him play the straight man.
Stalwart sidekick Jon Favreau does a good job of adopting Vaughn's old persona, and is utterly convincing as a gruff, tough-talking smartass. Supporting cast-members Judy Davis, Jason Bateman, and Michael Higgins Clark also deliver standout performances. Perhaps sensing weakness in his newly adopted role, Vaughn can't help but dip back in to his trusty clown bag to deliver some razor-sharp dialogue, which lends his character a herky-jerky Jekyll and Hyde quality. However, Vaughn's regular guy reactions are so deadpan and pitch perfect, all is easily forgiven.
The Break-Up is a kinder, gentler version of The War of the Roses meets Swingers lite. Yet some would argue that the plotting, arguing, and revenge scenarios between Gary and Brooke are too heated, awkward, and mean-spirited to be considered a date movie.
Grossly misrepresented as a "romantic comedy," The Break-Up has some memorable scenes that make it worth the price of admission. Yet it in no way does it qualify as a comedy or a romance. Thanks to Vaughn, there are genuinely funny, laugh out loud moments, however he might as well be acting against a log. In her quest to be the model of dignity and grace, Aniston has become the embodiment of the A-List automaton. From her perfectly toned body and immaculate coiffe, right down to the precious knot on her fabulously turned out crisp, white trench coat, Android Aniston is Hollywood meets Stepford: all style, no substance, which is anything but funny.
Then there is the ending: A wholly unsatisfying eleventh hour tack-on which feels like a cop out. Moviegoers will be wildly divided. If you love the philosophizing frat boy humour of films like Swingers and Wedding Crashers, then you'll enjoy The Break-Up. Those who don't will find the film hateful, uncomfortable, and petty.
For those interested in seeing The Break-Up in hopes of catching a glimpse of the spark that led to the off-screen union known in the tabloids simply as Vaughniston, you will be sorely disappointed. There is zero chemistry. Rather, it might lead you to marvel at how a well-timed public romance can affect the success of a film. It also proves that no matter how much publicity a so-called real life relationship can generate, you just can't fake it on the big screen.