Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Break-Up

Important disclaimer re: The Break-Up : This movie is not a romantic comedy. Do not let any of the marketing convince you otherwise. You will only end up feeling awkward because you were expecting some sort of hilarious hybrid of The Wedding Crashers and Friends. Do not see it if you're more interested in what Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn are doing offscreen, rather than on. Do not take a first date to this film. Do not take your current partner to this film. In fact, don't go at all.

Well, OK, that's not entirely fair. The Break-Up is a half-decent attempt to realistically depict a relationship in its death-throes, managing to avoid for the most part feel-good-rom-com-required hints at reconcilation. It's also got half decent performances from its leads - even if they are largely stuck in the realm of cliches (she's a classy and caring modern woman; he's a selfish slob).

However, it's suffering from the same condition as Jennifer Aniston's character Brooke - a crisis of conscience. It doesn't really have the chutzpah to go all out as a serious relationship drama, preferring instead to throw in wacky comedic turns to justify the advertising campaign, which was obviously planned before the film itself was written.

The story begins with Brooke (Aniston) and Gary (Vaughn) meeting at a baseball match. We're not sure why they got together, but their relationship is documented in snapshots throughout the title sequence. After a brief explanation of what they do (she's an art dealer; he runs bus tours of Chicago), the film gets right into the argument that sees them break up. Trouble is, they've bought a snazzy condo together (Americans can't just have "flats", can they?) and neither wants to give up their half. What follows is territorial warfare, with hijinks and shenanigans from both sides - but it becomes apparent they're fighting for different reasons.

As mentioned earlier, the two leads turn in reasonable performances. Vaughn is set up early as "the bad guy", and plays his easy-going schtick well. His vehemence in some of the fight scenes is what really impresses though - in fact, some of those fights are so realistic, fought over petty things, often in front of friends, that you almost feel like you're watching people you know have a spat. Aniston is set up as "the good woman" - with the filmmakers attempting to get across the fact that sometimes you try to save a relationship simply because you love the person no matter what their flaws. This is supposed to make Aniston's character sympathetic to the audience, but unfortunately we just end up wondering what she saw in him in the first place and to just dump the slacker already.

The supporting cast is of stellar quality (including Vincent D'Onofrio, Jason Bateman and even a brief glimpse of Ann-Margret), but their roles are reduced to a series of incidental appearances ranging from the dull (Joey Lauren Adams as Brooke's helpful advice-giving best friend) to the unrealistic (John Michael Higgins as Brooke's metrosexual all-singing brother). The stand-out is Judy Davis as Brooke's self-obsessed boss - more worried about the effect Brooke's relationship woes has on her business than on Brooke herself.

The Break Up thankfully avoids too much of a cliched Hollywood ending; but ultimately its take on the male/female dynamic doesn't go much deeper than "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus". It certainly is different to your average rom-com, but it's a shame it didn't have the intestinal fortitude to push the envelope further.

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