Friday, 4 August 2006

Break-up, the (2006)

Actually, this alternate ending sequence from the extras is the only reason why you might want to rent the DVD.

Vince Vaughn is a very watchable actor. He has good comic sense, ad libs his lines, and is even capable of playing uncomfortable, slightly creepy people in non-comic roles (for example, in Thumbsucker). Vince Vaughn displays none of these qualities in The Break-up, a romantic comedy that has 1 interesting idea, 10 genuinely funny minutes, and 2 screaming matches between its main characters.

The smart idea behind The Break-up is this: instead of a romantic comedy showing how two people meet and fall in love, how about a romantic comedy showing how a married couple break up acrimoniously, but in the midst of their pre-separation feuding and calculated plots to annoy and humiliate each other, realise that they’re not fighting over ownership of their swanky condo, but for their relationship?

Hollywood and the movies it produces are always dependent on limitations of its A-list actors and screenwriters. The truth of the matter is The Break-up would have been made into a good film in the 1980s or the 1950s, but not now. Neither acting or scriptwriting talent is on hand for what The Break-up would ideally look like– a romantic comedy variation on The War of the Roses and Ruthless People.

Character-wise, Vaughn and Aniston are sorely miscast. Vaughn is an excellent comedian while Aniston is still stuck in her Friends era cutie pie image. Neither can do mean. Sure, Vaughn can carry off slob well, and Aniston can scream and shout her lines, but that doesn’t amount to anything at all.

Script-wise, The Break-up is a car wreck. It lacks any sense of fun, dark humour, satire, angst, or pathos. Yes, we have a couple on the verge of pulling the plug on their marriage. That’s fine, but the writers have absolutely no sense what they want out of this excellent premise. Is this film a mean social satire at suburban divorce? Or perhaps a zany look at completely mismatched, inherently incompatible couples and their friends? Or a depressing study of a marriage in decay, like late Ingmar Bergman? We have absolutely no idea either. There are mediocre attempts at all these possibilities, but the comedy falls flat, the insight is shallow to the point of non-existence, there is only one moment of uncomfortable comedy that might qualify as satire, and the shouting matches and shenanigans between Aniston and Vaughn are so very pedestrian.

What is far worse about the scripting is this: the writers forget to balance out Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston). Whether they intended a comedy, satire, social commentary or a drama, the important thing is to have the couple be equally mean, equally likeable, or equally dislikeable. Instead, Gary not only lacks any funny lines, he also lacks any redeeming quality and comes across as an arrogant oaf to Brooke’s American pie image. With an imbalance like this, it is impossible for audiences to derive any satisfaction or entertainment from the bickering couple, simply because they will have to side with Brooke.

The Break-up might have been funny if Brooke wasn’t such an innocent aggrieved party, or if Vaughn was not a total prick. Make Brooke an annoying and sanctimonious character, give Gary some likeable qualities. Either way, there would be something entertaining or fitting about the two…

The meat of the movie lies in the feuds the couple engage in. The condo is the prize for the party able to endure the annoyances that their ex-spouse puts up (he invites his buddies for strip poker in the living room, she invites her brother’s band over for rehearsal). All this feels episodic, like a comedy drama, but the sequences strangely lack humour of any kind and are painful to watch. What a bored audience with all the time in the world can do to block out the bad cinematic experience is to think, and come to the realisation: the two were never meant to be together, so how on earth did they get married in the first place? Then, the movie falls apart rather quickly. You might want to run out of the exit before then.

One good thing about this movie is it eschews the standard romantic comedy ending. But then, you weren’t expecting it to anyway because film completely demolishes any chance, or scenario that could bring back them together. The other good thing is the supporting cast, especially Judy Davis as Brooke’s eccentric art gallery boss ,most of whom are actually funnier than Vince Vaughn, but some of their routines could be hit and miss affairs (Richard Meyers). Overall, there isn’t enough fun in The Break-up to warrant even a DVD rental 6 months down the road.

First published at incinemas on 17 August 2006

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