Breaking up: hard to do, harder to watch

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, June 08, 2006


  "The Break-Up" Universal Pictures 1 hour, 46 minutes AP Photo/Universal Pictures/Meli

"The Break-Up"

Universal Pictures

1 hour, 46 minutes

AP Photo/Universal Pictures/Meli

Last week I wrote that I had rarely been as depressed leaving a movie as I was when I walked out of “X-Men 3.” That was a depression born of deep geek comic book love torn asunder on the cold, sharp rocks of Hollywood’s bottom-line mentality. This is turning out to be a red-letter summer, because the depression I felt this week was nearly as bad as last week’s, but in a different way. I left the theater showing Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston’s “hilarious” comedy about breaking up feeling exhausted and head-achy after being subjected to a long series of screaming fights and cruel manipulations, with jokes few and far between.

“The Break-Up” plays out kind of like a “Money Pit” for the new millennium, though in this case it’s simply relationships that wind up in shambles. Vaughn is Gary, one of three brothers who jointly own Three Brothers Tours of Chicago. Gary, as he likes to claim, is the talent. Aniston is Brooke, manager of a hoity-toity art gallery, and all-around great gal.

One day, after three years or so of living together in their typically amazing downtown apartment, it suddenly becomes clear to Brooke that Gary is an insensitive jerk, and she abruptly breaks up with him — hence the title. Gary, rather than seeing the error of his ways, agrees to the break-up, but there is one small problem. Who gets the apartment?

Ah, there’s the rub, and what a nice comment on modern relationships, that we value our living quarters more than our mates. In true Hollywood fashion, they decide to try to split the apartment and still co-habitate, though by this time the two seem to hate each other, and therein begin the hijinks.

Brooke invites her brother’s acapella group to practice in her room early in the morning. Gary has the guys and some exotic dancers over for strip poker. Brooke parades a series of men past Gary in the hopes of making him jealous. Gary refuses to let any of Brooke’s friends eat any of his potato chips. And on and on. Some of this is kind of amusing, and there are even a few spots where I laughed out loud.

The ancillary characters, in Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman, Judy Davis and more are pretty funny, but unfortunately they are only available in small doses. This is two people’s story, remember?

You may think you know where this little comedic gem is going, but I think, if you subject yourself to it, that you’ll be surprised, unpleasantly so, at where they take it.

This movie has problems, and they go deeper than simply not being very funny. First and foremost, I’m disturbed at the portrayal of the relationship from the get go. Three years of living together, and there is never a mention of marriage. Now, I’m no prude and I’m not a traditionalist, necessarily, but it seems pretty cynical to me to set up a relationship that has an easy escape hatch whenever you need it. There was no real commitment from either of these people, which is why, in the end, it’s an apartment that is tenuously holding them together, not love or devotion. For example, there are no tears until the end of the movie. Rather than feeling frightened or sad about this turn of events, both parties immediately go into combat mode. That’s some depth of feeling for you.

To be fair, Brooke, for a while, seems to want the relationship to work, but why? In fact, how did she last three years? Gary is a jerk. I never liked him, so it was hard for me to empathize with his side of the story. He’s not evil, but he’s a child. It was like watching the Vince Vaughn we know and love from “Old School,” “Wedding Crashers” and “Swingers” suddenly shown in the light of the real world. A person can’t really behave like that and expect to get anywhere.

And that was the biggest problem of the film. It felt very real. I certainly can’t fault the acting. Aniston and Vaughn made me believe that they were in an affair set on self-destruct and it was pretty uncomfortable to watch. Domestic arguments can be funny. Anyone who’s ever seen “All in the Family” can attest to that. But anyone who’s ever had to sit in the same room as two people actually yelling and screaming at each other knows that anyplace is a better place to be. That’s how I felt watching this movie: slightly embarrassed and looking for a polite way to leave. However, true as the actors’ performances may have been, I would suggest that this is the exact opposite of how you want the audience to feel while watching a romantic comedy. Grade: C-

“The Break-Up” is rated PG-13 for language, sexual situations, partial nudity, and adult themes.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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