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The Break-Up

The Break-Up opens with a Hollywood meet cute. Gary (Vince Vaughn) catches a glimpse of the lovely Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) at a Cubs game and immediately tries to pick her up using hot dogs and personal charm. She firmly rejects him as they leave the stadium. Then the credit sequence rolls and a montage of photos reveals that the two did indeed become a couple. (But we knew that had to happen or else there wouldn't be a movie.) As soon as the credits end and the film begins, their relationship falls apart. On the night of a dinner party, Gary brings home three lemons instead of the twelve Brooke requested for her centerpiece. This proves to be the last straw for her, and she calls it quits. But in the language of Hollywood romance this translates, as she just wants Gary to appreciate her more. But Gary's a stubborn guy (or maybe just an oblivious one, take your pick), and he refuses to give in. In fact, he decides to up the ante by calling her bluff and agreeing to a break up. This escalates the battle'not quite to

The War of the Roses level of violent absurdity but to at least an emotional game of one-upsmanship. Making the split even harder is the fact that they have a swell place that neither one wants to move out of.

In this romantic battle, Gary and Brooke each have their own stock support troops. Gary has a drinking buddy (the wonderful Jon Favreau) to hang with and complain to about women, and he has a brother who offers bad advice about rebounding. Brooke has a girlfriend (the also wonderful and under used Joey Lauren Adams) with plenty of advice, and a gay co-worker determined to cheer her up. She also has an eccentric and filthy rich boss (Judy Davis hamming it up nicely). These characters as well as everything else in the film follow a predictable formula. The film takes a men are from Mars, women are from Venus approach that's makes it easy to anticipate every turn the story will take. So Brooke does the cooking and cleaning, is the one who appreciates art and ballet, decorates the house and represents all the left-brain functions. Gary on the other hand is all right brain (although a kind of slacker version of it): he's pragmatic and objective as he looks at the break up and he sees no need for touchy feely emotions. He's also messy, likes sports and video games, and thinks a pool table is appropriate furniture for any room in a house. Bottom line: There are no surprises in how this relationship or this film plays out.


And that's just the beginning of the film's problems. How does it fail? Let me count the ways. Director Peyton Reed (of Bring It On and Down With Love ) wants his film to be both funny and serious but he fails to deliver either laughs or real emotions. He takes more time and care making sure we can read the Pepsi logo on Aniston can of soda than in how the characters interact with each other. Come to think of it, his direction of Aniston is more about posing her in the frame and dressing her in sexy clothes than in making Brooke's emotions real.

Written by Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender (from an idea by Vince Vaughn), the film leaves the beginning and middle of its story out and focuses only on the end, which makes no sense because I don't think the writers never bothered to think about what took place before the break up. As the film plays out we see no reason why these two people ever fell in love in the first place or what they could have possibly even seen in each other. If these two weren't fighting, we have no clue what they could have ever talked about. We can't even imagine them in a physically close relationship. In fact, the ending of the film even suggests that maybe they would have been better off never hooking up. The ending is also calculatingly ambiguous, as if the filmmakers were trying to please two opposing factions of a focus group. They want to offer a happy ending for romantics and the sting of reality for cynics, so they create an ending that's just vaguely open ended.

Adding to the film's problems is the complete lack of chemistry between Vaughn and Aniston. At no point can we even perceive of them as a couple'as two people who ever shared intimacy or a laugh or a good time. The film is essentially made up of Vaughn rattling off mini-monologues in his own unique style, while Aniston's job is simply to react incredulously. Plus neither character is appealing in the least. Our sympathies actually go to their friends who have to put up with these two self-absorbed, frustrating individuals. It's interesting that The Break-Up arrives just after Aniston's indie feature Friends with Money . In that film, director Nicole Holofcener used Aniston's blank passivity to perfect effect for a character that can't seem to take responsibility for the lack of direction in her life. That film showed us how to feel compassion for flawed, not particularly appealing characters. It also tweaked stereotypes and delivered real characters that could be both funny and poignant. Something The Break-Up is never able to achieve.

The Break-Up (rated PG-13) reaffirms my belief that romantic comedies when they go wrong are the most painful films to watch. If you feel an urge to see The Break-Up , or maybe you're drawn to it because the title taps in to the recent tabloid headlines about Aniston's real life break up with Brad Pitt, please stop yourself from plucking down ten dollars for a ticket. Instead, just check out the trailer online or in the theater. The trailer's funnier and doesn't last long enough to wear out it's welcome. Plus, the few funny gags are all in the trailer. So save yourself both the money and the time and avoid this non-rom-com.

Companion viewing: The War of the Roses , Harold Pinter's Betrayal , Friends with Money -----