The Break-Up

4 stars


30th July 2006

Not all of us can claim to have crashed weddings, hosted a sorority in our house or entered a Dodgeball tournament, but it's probably fair to say most of us have gone through a break-up of some sort. The harsh words yelled in anger, the resulting fallout and the awkward attempts at reconciliation that follow; not exactly the best concept for a comedy you might think, and you'd be right. Don't get me wrong, The Break-Up is indeed very funny, but it's also bang on the nose in its wry analysis of relationships and how they break down. It's more bitter than a bowlful of lemons and just as sharp.

Gary (Vaughn) and Brooke (Aniston) meet a baseball game, and one photo montage later, their relationship is well established. Set perfectly to the tune of Queen's 'You're My Best Friend', the pictures of Vince and Jen cuddling might well have come from the pages of the National Enquirer. However, it's clear they have differences - Gary, very much a guy's guy, likes to spend time doing things like playing Grand Theft Auto (don't we all) and wants to install a pool table in the couple's shared apartment. Brooke, however, likes entertaining her family and having evenings in, and thinks a pool table would disturb the apartment's feng shui. As serious cracks start to show in the relationship and a split becomes inevitable, it's clear that one of the couple will have to move out of the apartment, but no matter how many strip poker nights Gary throws or impromptu barbershop sessions Brooke organises, neither will budge.

The ads and the trailers you might have seen are slightly misleading: The Break-Up is not all about the couple waging mental warfare on each other, or as the marketing execs handily labelled it, competing in the 'Ex Games'. Much fun is had with the obsessive one-upmanship between the two, but the real laughs come from the familiarity of the situations the couple find themselves in. Post dinner party, Brooke requests Gary's help with the dishes, a task which he grudgingly accepts. "Wait, this isn't what I want," says Brooke abruptly. "I want you to want to do the dishes." A pause. "Why would I want to do dishes?" comes Gary's response. It's this kind of pointed back and forth that rings so true, the verbal jousting and skirting of the real issues that will connect with the audience - it's bringing the loves and lives of Hollywood superstars right down to the level of your average Mr. and Mrs. The hatred of the other half's family members, the segregated shared friends, the chronic nagging when all you want to do is sit down for five minutes... it paints a fine picture of relationships which is refreshingly free of that thick coat of movie gloss.

Vaughn, predictably, is fantastic. I've said before I could wet myself laughing watching the guy read the back of a cereal packet, but here he's on lightning form, whether he's smooth-talking his way into Brooke's life in the opening scene or trash-talking a fellow Xbox Live player once he's relegated to the sofa ("Would your mother love you less if she knew how bad I beat you?"). Even better, he's paired up with Swingers partner Jon Favreau as best buddy Johnny O, and although the two have clearly eaten the rest of the gang between them, there's still no stopping that 'Vegas baby!' banter they share. Given their (supposed) real-life relationship, there's definitely some on-screen chemistry between Vaughn and Aniston (definitely more than Brad and Angelina showed in Mr. & Mrs. Smith anyway) and if they don't 100% convince when they're sharing tender scenes together, they certainly look like they're drawing on some real emotions when they're taking chunks out of each other. The Break-Up doesn't pull its punches when it comes to dishing out the abuse, and to give them their dues, Vince and Jen give it their all. Credit to the supporting players too; Vincent D'Onofrio and Cole Hauser are awkward and repellent respectively as Gary's brothers, while John Michael Higgins is hilarious as Brooke's musical brother, a cousin twice removed from his folk singer in A Mighty Wind.

Where The Break-Up really succeeds is in the quality of its writing. There's depth in character displayed here that goes beyond mere stereotype. Making Gary a lazy slob doesn't prejudice us against him, likewise with Brooke's occasional nagging; it's not a 'Battle of the Sexes' movie by any means, and it's superbly balanced so as not to force you to pick sides. There are real moments of recognition that hit home - a furious Brooke stands in her room unable to move out of sheer anger, and later lies in bed alone, eyes open intently as she listens to her boyfriend come home and pull out the couch - this is stuff that has clearly been written by people who have lived it and not just seen movies about it. If you're looking for another dumb frat pack movie, then you won't find it here, but that's not to say you won't have fun: watching an irate Vince Vaughn playing Pictionary is just as brilliant as you'd always hoped it would be.

More:  Comedy  Drama  Romance
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