In an era of formulaic romantic movies that bear no resemblance to reality, The Break-Up offers a refreshing flipside. While it’s common knowledge that Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston fell in love during production, there is little evidence of it in the movie. Forget red roses and long walks on the beach—there is fighting, crying, and nasty revenge schemes being hatched. Unlike the misleading trailers suggest, the rise and demise of a couple in love is nothing to giggle about, which is why The Break-Up is a much better movie than expected, even though it will distance people who are expecting an endless stream of laughs.
There are certainly funny moments scattered throughout, but the heart of the movie is pain, the kind that is rarely expressed believably in movies of this nature. Gary (Vaughn), a bus tour guide, and Brooke (Aniston), an art dealer, meet at a Chicago Cubs game—ironically enough, the team that rarely makes the cut. A montage of the happy couples flashes by, spanning the past two years of their relationship. They now share a condo together, but bad news is coming.
After a big fight about Brooke feeling unappreciated (“I want you to want to do the dishes,” she complains while Gary lounges on the couch fondling the remote control), all hell breaks loose. He wants time to relax and a break from her nagging; she thinks he is self-centered and doesn’t pitch in enough. As often happens with fights, one nitpick leads to another and soon they’re fighting about how she won’t allow a pool table in the condo and how he never takes her to the ballet. After enough ugliness gets hurled around, she waves a white flag and declares the relationship kaput. Another one bites the dust.
Since neither of them wants to move out, they find themselves sharing a living space, War Of The Roses-style. They don't know how to handle the latest developments, so they resort to juvenile behavior and try to one-up the other with revenge ploys. Brooke kicks Gary off their beloved bowling team and takes dates home to taunt him; Gary has a rowdy game night with the guys and brings home dancing strippers. While these scenes can be amusing, they’re really more depressing at the core because neither of them truly wants to break up—they just completely lost sight of how to be together.
The Break-Up may not be a cheery, gut-busting movie, but it’s not all doom and gloom either. The comic relief is provided by the quirky side characters, including a snippy drama-queen boss (Judy Davis), Brooke’s questionably straight brother who belts out tunes at the dinner table (John Michael Higgins), and Gary’s paranoid bartender buddy, generally full of bad advice (Jon Favreau). Since the central subject matter is all too realistic, these bizarre sidekicks are necessary to keep the tone light and the pace flowing.
As for the leads, Vaughn and Aniston should fall in love more often; their bond does wonders for their performances, and they deliver unusual degrees of subtlety and heartfelt emotion. Director Peyton Reed (Down With Love) wisely allows the actors to use improvisation, bringing further life to Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender’s earnest screenplay—except for the phony, tacked-on ending. Straying from the overall cynical vibe of the film, it feels like a knee-jerk reaction to studio executives demanding more optimism. Although it goes out with a whimper, The Break-Up sprinkles grains of truth into a genre littered with fallacies.