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The Break-Up

Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer

An advance review of the bleak Vince Vaughn/Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy.


ImageI have the standard-issue love-hate relationship with the two Vince Vaughn/Jon Favreau comedies: Swingers and Made. Both are extremely well-crafted comedies that surprise you with resonant, gut-punch endings. Watching Favreau hang up on his manipulative ex-girlfriend in Swingers made me shudder with dramatic satisfaction, and I never want to see it again.

I got to see an advance screening of the Vince Vaughn/Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy The Break-Up tonight, and I can only imagine what the focus group afterward was like. The movie has three endings – the first bleak, the second bitter, and the third … well, it’s a dischordant, off-kilter non-ending that stands at a 90-degree angle from the rest of the movie – and I loved it. I only wish that teens and 20-somethings on their first dates later this summer could see the same strong ending I saw tonight.

So why did I mention Vaughn and Favreau’s two other comedies to open this review?

Because even though this movie makes a game effort of being a Vaughn/Aniston romantic comedy – and these two have some really great scenes together – it wants to be the third chapter in the Vaughn/Favreau trilogy, and it would rock to make it the third chapter in that trilogy because it would follow the first two chapters – both of which have essentially happy endings – with a dose of middle-age unease; that “oh shit” feeling you get when you end a relationship in your 30s and realize you’re fatter and balder than you used to be, and you have to start right the fuck over in the dating game.

OK, let’s get to the spoliers: In case you haven’t seen the trailer, Vaughn and Aniston are a happy couple. They break up. Shenanigans ensue for the second act. You can guess the third act: they try to get back together.

More spoilers: Remember the three endings I mentioned? Well, let’s break them down and why they work so well:

ENDING NUMBER ONE: Vaughn’s character – central casting for beer-swilling, GTA-playing, insensitive-but-lovable lout – pulls a reverse-Sandy-in-Grease to try and win back Aniston’s female Felix Ungar; he cleans up his act, cleans up the apartment, makes her dinner and offers to go to the ballet – and she refuses him. Awesome.

ENDING NUMBER TWO: They meet back up in their empty apartment to exchange keys and a few awkward words – and they don’t reconcile. Awesome.

ENDING NUMBER THREE: Time-lapse forward to a surprisingly non-harsh Chicago winter where Vaughn and Aniston bump into each other and exchange a few polite words – and part ways.

And that’s it! Roll credits! Awesome.

Now, let me temper my praise by saying that this movie, for me, echoes the vibe of A Doll’s House (yes, I’m invoking a dang Ibsen play in a review of a romantic comedy), meaning that it has a great third act preceded by an acceptable-to-forgettable initial two thirds. The “big fight” that leads to their break-up? Not very good.

But the scene where Aniston invites Vaughn to a concert in a last-ditch effort to make up? And he stands her up? And the filmmakers don’t use any music to tell us how to feel? Fantastic.

Also problematic is the movie’s flirtation with Noel Coward-style broad comedic characters. To wit, this movie features:

Aniston’s flamboyantly closeted a capella singing brother, played by the always fantastic John Michael Higgins, whose underrated performance as David Letterman in The Late Shift still stands as one of the best pieces of biographical acting ever. He deserves better.

Judy Davis as Aniston’s boss, a super-eccentric art dealer whose performance fluctuates between pseudo-Eurotrash Edna Mode clone and kvetching, magnanimous mother.

Random Guy Whose Name I Can’t Remember as an even more flamboyantly gay assistant to Judy Davis’ art dealer, and whose character arc features the touching dramatic mainstay of talking through a hand puppet.

Vincent D’onofrio as Vaughn’s dotty boss. I preferred him in Adventures in Babysitting.

Do you see what I’m getting at? I’m not saying none of these characters was funny – Higgins manages to make an impromptu dinner table song into a pretty decent laugher – but when held up next to the rock-solid third act, I feel like they wasted our time.

I wish this movie had more Jon Favreau, and I hope the filmmakers are brave enough to stand by their sad ending. Even though Favreau looks like he’s been subsisting on nothing but butter and confectioner’s sugar for the past few years – I think I could see spacetime warping around his girth – his belligerent White Sox fan character provided some dramatic ballast by playing the Silent Bob role, in providing the key third act Words of Wisdom (though he wasn’t silent the whole movie).

And I love the ending. It’s the anti-Hollywood ending we saw midway through the classic black comedy The Player, and without its bleak ending, The Break-Up won’t leave an impression.