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The Break-Up

Directed by Peyton Reed

Written by Jeremy Garelick

and Jay Lavender

Starring Vince Vaughn

and Jennifer Aniston

Classification: PG

Rating:

Why one hand wants to clap: Because it's nice when a Hollywood movie boldly departs from the Hollywood formula. Why the other hand doesn't: Because it's a whole lot nicer when the departure works. That's where The Break-Up goes badly wrong. Although possessed of a laudable desire not to be yet another run-of-the-mill, wacky-impediment, I'm-nobody-and-you're-the-Prez's-daughter romance comedy, damned if the picture can figure out how to be an anti-romance comedy. What's worse, it ends up fighting the big cliché with a plodding army of smaller clichés - rebels don't get any more reactionary.

Our wannabe Che is Vince Vaughn. As the producer, the lead actor, the originator of the story and the chief hogger of its few good lines, there's no question that Vince has the heft here. Any lingering doubts are dispelled by one glance at him: Having packed even more poundage than usual onto his already pudgy frame, he looks to be literally throwing his weight around. Definitely, this is his movie - and his blame.

Things begin where convention typically finishes. Boy meets girl, boy woos and wins girl, all before the opening credits have stopped rolling. What follows, of course, is two hours worth of their break-up, set in the Windy City and prefaced by cliché No. 1: Oh, aren't they the odd couple. Gary (Vince) guides a tour bus; Brooke (that Jennifer Aniston gal) toils in an art gallery. He loves the Cubs, she adores the ballet. He's emotionally stunted, she's not, he's a slob, she ain't, and on go the cozy dichotomies until we reach cliché No. 2.

You remember the proverbial tense-dinner-party sequence, punctuated here by the first big shouting match, which finds its inevitable parallel a few scenes later in the second big shouting match.

Ah, all that overly neat and contrived parallelism - seems the bane of those boring old movies is getting passed off as a blessing in this bold new outing. So, having terminated their relationship and precisely divvied up the living space in their shared condo, the two scurry off to seek solace from their balanced set of best pals. She goes to her sympathetic girlfriend (a bland Joey Lauren Adams); he goes to his barkeeper boyfriend (a bloated Jon Favreau - apparently, he and Vince have been frequenting the same restaurants).

What's more, they even have mix-and-match brothers - hers is kind of gay, his is sort of obnoxious. He has an older sibling too, who doubles as his demanding boss. She also has a demanding boss, who doubles as Judy Davis. Now, in one of those dumb conventional flicks, all these supporting characters would mug and clown and make for the comic fifth business. But not in this brave departure - not when they don't generate any comedy.

That job falls almost exclusively to our leading hefty man. When not doomed by the script to bicker over who gets custody of the bowling team, Vince is intermittently funny during the several extemporized, look-at-me-be-wildly-creative riffs that he's demanded from his designated director. Unfortunately, his modest but insistent heroics leave Jennifer with little to do but stand by and act sad and turn back into Rachel from you-know-where. Which puts us back into sitcomville. One example should suffice. His set-up: "Your sister slept through the entire Arizona Cardinals line." Her reply: "She was on vacation." You can almost hear the rim shot.

And, gosh, isn't it just like Rachel to line up a hunky date in order to make Ross - sorry, Gary - really jealous. Or to make him really hot by parading about in the nude with what is politely described as a "Telly Savalas" wax job. Could be worse, I guess - could be a "Don Rickles comb over."

Traditionally, and as surely as Harper follows Bush, the surmounting of romance's impediment brings on the reconciliation scene. Here, we get the non-reconciliation scene, equally predictable but, in this case, with the further distinction of making absolutely no emotional sense at all. Not to worry, though. Rumour has it that, in a sop to another tradition known as focus groups, The Break-Up replaced its original ending with a more ambiguous version designed to take the un out of unconventional, and to toss at least a sprig of romance back into comedy's salad bowl. So do Gary and Brooke, Ross and Rachel, Vince and Jennifer make a go of it? Heck, I'm no spoiler. That's for you to find out and, as ever, for the tabloids to know.