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
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.