As mama used to say, "The extent of the nourishment you get from your entertainment water is directly related to how deep your well of expectations runs." I always thought mama was a bit too verbose in her metaphorical philosophizing, but there's truth in them there words!
Thanks to Hollywood's constant desire to market films based on what they feel they have to trick people into thinking they're about, some audiences will likely go to see The Break-Up, ignore the insinuations of the movie's title, and expect something cute and fluffy. As such, the movie is unfairly saddled with expectations that it can't possibly meet for no other reason than the simple fact that this is NOT a conventional "chick flick" romantic comedy that will warm those little heart cockles and send you floating out of the theater on a cotton candy cloud.
After a chance meeting at a Cubs/White Sox baseball game, an "opening credit relationship photo montage" creatively establishes that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn are a couple. Just not for much longer. You see, Jennifer is busy cooking for a family dinner. Vince's only responsibility is to bring home 12 lemons so that she can create a centerpiece for the dinner table. So what does he do? Brings home three. Jen's understandably agitated.
Rather than dutifully go get the extra lemons, Vince tries to find alternatives that will allow him to just sit on the couch and play video games until everybody arrives. Perhaps use the lemons to flavor the chicken since he tasted it and thought it was a little too spicy anyway? Maybe place them in a glass and create a smaller centerpiece? Yeah, it's fairly clear which three letters he puts in "class."
This leads to his lack of desire to help with the dishes later that evening. Oh, he'll help with them in the morning, but Jen really wants them done tonight. Fifteen minutes of work won't kill the guy, right? When Jen expresses her disdain for the lack of appreciation he shows her, he goes into a character-exposing rant and declares his desire to just be left alone. Jen's had enough and decides to grant him his wish. Commence with the break-up and the emotional tug-of-war that carries the majority of the movie.
This is where some audiences might get lost. Why? Probably because it feels so real, and sometimes reality doesn't always sell. People still love fairy tales, you know? The arguments and hard-feelings that slowly develop will likely hit home with anybody who has gone through a break up, and I have no doubt that many, if not most, guys will fill a little discomfort when they see some of themselves in Vince.
The thing I appreciated the most is despite his penchant for being a jerk, Vince isn't adorned with a black hat and presented to us for our jeering. It's just the way he is. He likes doing things his way. He treats his friends and brothers in the same manner, but they still love the guy and like hanging out with him; he just needs to learn to accept doing things he might not want to for the people he loves. He's likable and funny enough that we root for him to learn the lesson.
Likewise, Jennifer isn't placed on a pedestal with a golden halo on her head. Though she's the more sympathetic of the two, she still resorts to playing dirty and isn't allowed to come off completely innocent. Perhaps the character flaws won't play well with the "give me idealistic characters!" crowd, but I found them refreshingly realistic.
The movie's focal point is the often volatile chemistry between Vince and Jennifer, which I thought was great, but the supporting characters are also very effective, albeit underused. Vince has some show-stealing scenes with Jason Bateman and particularly one with Jon Favreau (and his ever-increasing girth) that are so good that you can't help but be disappointed that there aren't more to savor.
Speaking of disappointment, go ahead and prepare yourself for the potential of more as the closing credits begin to scroll. I admit that I wanted a little more closure than I was given, and that seemed to be the audience consensus. I suppose we should admire the screenwriters for sticking by their guns and refusing to tie all the loose ends as tightly as test audiences have demanded, but that doesn't mean we have to be happy about it. I could have handled it better had it not felt so abrupt and left me feeling a little incomplete.
But it certainly doesn't ruin the movie. You just need to check your expectations and give the film a fair chance. Don't be a pawn of the marketing team's efforts to mislead audiences into the door.
If you're a Vince fan I would also advise you not to expect the Johnny Jump-Up zaniness of The Wedding Crashers or Dodgeball. The Break-Up is a movie of a different breed. Abandoning the temptation to deliver a consistently uproarious comedy romp, The Break-Up deliberately balances itself with dramatic conflict, and gives us something a little different than what Hollywood has forced us to become accustomed to.
It doesn't do it flawlessly, but at least it makes the attempt.