Directed by: Peyton Reed
Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn, Joey Lauren Adams, Judy Davis, Ann-Margret, Jon Favreau
Unrelenting in its sheer awfulness, the romantic comedy known as The Break-Up boasts neither romance, nor comedy. In its stead, this cinematic version of the famed Chinese water torture invites the viewer to spend most of its 107 minutes (trust me, it feels at least twice that long) trapped with two singularly unlikable characters fighting. Imagine being invited to the house of a couple you don't like very much to begin with, and when you get there all they do is scream about how insensitive or nagging the other is.
The Break-Up is a lot like that -- sort of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, except that in this case the main characters have been given double-digit IQs. The major difference is that by the end of Virginia Woolf you understand why George and Martha stay together; here you're still wondering how Gary Grobowski (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke Meyers (Jennifer Aniston) ever got together in the first place. Worse, you don't much care -- beyond perhaps wishing their parents had played Russian roulette repeatedly before either was conceived.
Oh, we see them meet. They even "meet cute" after the dictates of the romantic comedy. In this case, that means Gary and Brooke happen to be in the same row at a Chicago Cubs game. He's there with his buddy Johnny (Jon Favreau) and she's there with a nerdy date we never see again. For reasons never made clear, Gary orders a bunch of hot dogs and insists she have one. Having thus slipped her the weenie, he soon talks her into dumping her date in favor of him. Never mind that in real life his chatter would at best rate an icy, "Do you actually get results with this line?" or at worst the threat of legal action from stadium security. Forget the fact that nothing in the movie ever suggests that Brooke would ever go to a baseball game in the first place. And definitely pay no attention to the little detail that Vaughn himself co-wrote the story, meaning that he apparently thinks his crude, fast-talking, wise-guy screen persona is irresistible.
What matters is that this allows the film to slap Queen's "You're My Best Friend" (how original) on the soundtrack while the credits play over a montage of oh-so-precious snapshots of their otherwise un-detailed romance. (Let's ignore the question of which of their friends took the photos of them in bed, or what said friends were doing there in the first place.) By the time the credits end, the relationship is already more sour than the dozen lemons Brooke wants for her "12-lemon centerpiece." This centerpiece -- combined with Gary's lack of desire to do the dishes -- proves to be the Lucky Strike that breaks the Camel's back as far as the relationship is concerned. She wanted 12 lemons, he brought her three.
Let the fighting begin -- and continue interminably till the viewer is hoping the serial killer from See No Evil will wander over from a neighboring auditorium and pluck out their eyes just to make it stop.
The problem is simple. Gary's an emotionally stunted slob whose idea of a good time is playing strip poker with his buddies and some cigar-smoking strippers. Brooke is a culture vulture with a taste for the ballet and setting an attractive table -- and an apparent weakness for strange men who offer her food in a shape Dr. Freud would have had something to say about. They're the Odd Couple of romance. That would be all right if the film managed to make them likable or interesting, but it doesn't even try.
The idea must have been that the movie could coast on the charm of its stars and the interest in their grocery check-out-line tabloid romance. It's not enough -- not nearly enough. Aniston is still a rather bland, generic pretty girl, who comes across the same no matter what she does. (The funniest line in the film is the observation that she's "done something to her hair" -- when it looks exactly like it has for her entire career.) Vaughn -- not surprisingly -- shows more chemistry in his scenes with frequent on- and off-screen pal Jon Favreau than with Aniston. The impressive supporting cast is largely wasted -- the legendary Ann-Margret (playing Aniston's mother) has about three minutes of screen time.
The already shaky claims that the film should get points for trying to be "different" (was there really a long-felt need for a rom-com with characters you don't care about?) is shot in the foot by a cop-out ending where you fully expect to hear Barbra Streisand start singing "The Way We Were" to signal an end to the tedium. Babs doesn't show up, but the inadequacy of the attempt at a bittersweet ending to the one she shared 30-plus years ago with Robert Redford in The Way We Were is palpable. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some nudity and language.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke