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The Break-Up (2006) – Peyton Reed

May 3, 2010

I don’t remember exactly how I ended up watching The Break-Up the first time around, but I’m sure it was in a fix to satisfy some rom-com junk food desires. I do remember it being released, mainly from the countless TV spots memorable because of Jennifer Aniston’s nude prancing in front of her then real life boyfriend Vince Vaughn. It didn’t make too much of a splash, critically, but for a couple reasons I paid attention to it. One reason being Jon Brion did the score, which seemed a bit odd that he would deviate from his usual quirky, high profile director fare. The other and main reason being Peyton Reed directed the film. Now, I’m guessing the name Peyton Reed doesn’t do much for most, but he did a film I absolutely adore called Down With Love back in 2003. It’s a lovely and clever homage to the Rock Hudson-Doris Day films of the late 50s and 60s that was doomed to not find a place among the young public. Since 2008, I’m not sure how much weight Reed’s name carries even for me after the extreme misfire Yes Man (though its light fare was a nice theatre-hopping come down from bore-fest Benjamin Button), but I think he did some nice things here in The Break-Up.

The film starts as anyone would assume; Vaughn’s character, Gary, picks up Aniston’s Brooke at a baseball game, and then we flash forward to the night of the fight. They’ve been living together; they’re having a dinner party, Gary was supposed to bring home twelve lemons, misunderstands the order and brings home three lemons. The misunderstanding washes away and the dinner starts. At dinner, we meet Brooke’s sister Richard, the closet homosexual who loves being in his barbershop quartet, which the always loveable John Michael Higgins (from Christopher Guest’s improve comedies) saves from being what on paper was a staple bad convention of the rom-com. Once the guests leave, Gary goes for the Playstation, Brooke goes for the dishes, and the break-up ensues. The argument starts like many in the genre; the woman gets mad at the man for not pulling his weight around the house. After a minute or two, it becomes clear that this film isn’t the date movie you’re used to, not because of the obvious handy-cam cinematography, but the acting escalates into a serious territory rarely seen in date movies. Rather, I should say Vaughn’s acting ups a tier and Aniston acts just as mediocre as usual, but she’s going off a much more realistic script than usual. Gary goes back to playing video games and Brooke tells him she’s done as she walks off; Gary lingers and then Vaughn does something very small here that I like a whole lot: he throws the controller. I know that just sounds miniscule, but it comes off as a completely spontaneous moment of frustration that I’ve witnessed in real life. It’s moments like this that  really add texture to a film.

The middle of the film basically revolves around a plot to reel in laughs which appeals more to the couples crowd. Neither of them will give up the apartment; Gary feels he got dumped and should at least be left with the apartment, and Brooke feels it was his fault they broke up and she deserves it. Anyway, they set up boundaries and you can imagine the sort of situations that ensue. Another genre convention arises; the friend. In every date movie, there must be a friend that each half of the couple goes to for consolation. Brooke’s is played by the always lackluster Joey Lauren Adams and Gary’s friend is played by the favorable Jon Favreau, Vaughn’s long time friend. Favreau’s character plays up the typical attitude of being convinced Brooke is cheating on Gary, which leads him to constant vengeful plottings. Justin Long (aka the Mac guy) shows up in a small part as a rather overdone super-fem character, but makes the most of it. Jason Bateman also makes a small appearance as the couple’s friend and realtor and is good for one solid dry joke. Gary’s job highlights one of the recent trends showing up in all kinds of films whose genre includes comedy; the quirky occupation that no one you know would ever hold. Gary is a tour guide in Chicago, and along with his brothers, he is trying to do not only bus tours, but eventually move to boats and planes. This trend was one of the things that really bugged me about last year’s otherwise usually successful (500) Days of Summer.

The third act of the film is the film’s best feature. We get closer to Gary and I’m not sure if we do to Brooke or whether it’s just my feelings toward Aniston that keep me at bay, but she does surprise me in the film’s finest scene. Brooke gives Gary another chance and when he doesn’t pick up on it, she is caught back in her room at the apartment crying. Gary is confused and tries to figure things out as Aniston let’s Brooke’s frustration out by raising her voice in perhaps the only scene I’ve seen Aniston be vulnerable. Peyton Reed should not be overlooked for making this what it is; a pared down, tense, lingering scene. The end of the film sees them some months later running into one another and being what seems to be an attempt at something sweet to one another but comes across as rather fake. It’s a largely disappointing cap of a film that has shown us a self consciousness (although it is a lot better than the alternate ending that I hope was just filmed to throw on the DVD for laughs).

Maybe the most important thing this film does relative to its genre is the way it portrays the male. During the break-up the viewer can clearly identify with Brooke’s problem, but the rest of the film isn’t devoted to having the male character trying his hardest at making the female accept him. Instead, each character realizes what sort of changes they need to make in order to know they have done what they can, which happen at different times. We are left wondering whether things would’ve worked out if they were on the same page, but the main fact that they aren’t on the same page points us in the right direction. Anyway, no one is seen as more immoral than the other.

I’m not saying this is a great film or even a very solid film, but it has moments where it transcends the genre that I really admire and Vaughn and Favreau’s natural charisma make up for some of the film’s more trodden path tendencies. There’s a negative review of this film by one Michael A. Smith where he says “The Break Up may go down with Fatal Attraction as the worst ‘date’ movie of all time,” but I just don’t see how that’s really a bad thing considering it obviously isn’t trying to win over lasting smiles. Rather, the film draws attention, if only for moments at a time, to a potent sense of relational frustration.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Davood permalink
    May 9, 2010 4:51 am

    Hello Peyton,

    I didn’t have your email, so I am writing this here. I am Persian, and when I watched your movie (Yes Man!) I was very disappointed, not only because of the dostorted information you had covered in your movie about Persians, but also because I can seethat even a highly educated person like you who is a writer and director, doesn’t care about basic principles of researching facts about another culture, when you want to plug it in your movie. FYI, Persians have never been involved nor captured in any terrorist activity in your country, and they never wear scarf (specially that ugly one in your movie) when they live in a democratic country like USA. Specially, I suggest you use some real persian websites to see how beautiful these women are.

    It is very sad when I see that you would stop such lies and insults only when you were prohibited by law. You would never nerve to do such in case of Jewish or African American cultures. You just categorized yourself under those poeple who can never be ethical without law enforcement present to stop their rudeness.

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