Well, I come bearing very mixed news. First, the good news. The Break Up is a fantastic film of wonderful clarity, depth, insight and honest to god character driven comedy. The bad news? You’re probably gonna hate it. No seriously. A lot of people are gonna hate the living shit out of this movie.
But before I get into any of that, there’s one thing I need to say that answers the question on many of your minds. No. This is NOTHING like Wedding Crashers. Not a bit of it. This is by no means a Hollywood romantic comedy. It’s something very, very different, which will excite film fans and indie lovers, but may upset or even anger the general public who will plop down 8 bucks thinking that they’re walking into a zany summer comedy. Because this movie is anything but zany.
On the contrary, this film is one that immediately sets itself apart from every other rom-com out there. If you’re the type of person that loathes the predictability and sappiness of the usual Hollywood romantic film and constantly asks “Why can’t they make something that’s more realistic?” Well, this is the movie for you. The Break Up is extremely realistic – which both works for and against it.
The film opens with a credit sequence comprised entirely of candid photos of the cast, showing us the evolution of the relationship between our star-crossed lovers. What is most interesting about this series of candids is that they are not your typical, polished, staged Hollywood photo shoots. These pictures feel very natural, complete with too much flash, people too close to the camera and big stars not quite looking their best. In short, the exact type of photos that would make agents’ and managers’ assholes pucker up tighter than a drum. And the type of pictures that fill each and every one of your photo albums and hard drives. But it perfectly sets the mood for what is to come.
Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn are not for one moment set up as your typical “beautiful” characters. Rather, they are incredibly real. From their interests, their attitudes and their dialog. These are fairly boring people. Flawed people. Your in-laws. Your friends. Aniston is an uptight art dealer. Vaughn is a video game loving bus tour operator. They enjoy bowling, board games and watching TV. Boring.
What follows is a fast forward through their relationship to what is usually the second act of any romantic-comedy. The Boy Loses Girl part. Right in the first act. And this is where this movie separates the wheat from the chaff. The inevitable argument begins and you will either find it incredibly funny in a very revealing “Oh my god, we’ve had that argument a hundred times” sort of way or you’ll look around wondering what the hell everyone else is laughing at. Because the humor in this movie is almost entirely comprised of you-had-to-be-there moments. If you haven’t been there, then odds are you’re not going to laugh very much. If you have, this movie is a fucking riot – when it’s not tearing your heart out.
Honestly, this film plays out exactly like a big budget indie, hell bent on nailing the stupid shit that breaks up good couples. Not the incompatibility angle – the really stupid shit. Here we have two people who really do make a good couple, but make all of the typical boyfriend/girlfriend mistakes, falling into the same logic traps we all fall into whenever emotions are involved – and they each sound absolutely ridiculous. Until you realize that you’ve said the very same shit yourself. And for those that enjoy a film that wants only to hold up a mirror and reflect the truth of your own life – this film hits all the right notes. Whether you let the love of your life slip through your fingers or you’ve been married for 20 years, this movie is going to find that weak spot in your past and put the screws to you.
However, if you’ve read reviews of mine that lasted longer than any of your relationships – which admittedly could be weeks – then you may not be able to identify with this film at all. And I could imagine that at the very same point that won me over, this film could become extremely tedious. Unlike most rom-coms, which draw their power from the charisma of their leads, The Break Up doesn’t allow Aniston or Vaughn to be very charismatic. Not that they aren’t likable, but each character is being something of a total retard. And not in that delightfully adorable way either.
But as the antics of act two kick in (all the ‘zany’ stuff from the trailer) the film really opens up and lets Aniston and Vaughn really cut loose with a cast of truly gifted character actors. Of course the big excitement here is Vaughn and Jon ‘Favs’ Favreau on screen together again – a few moments of which is pure magic. There’s also great comic support by Jason Bateman, Judy Davis, Peter ‘Ralphie’ Billingsley, Joey Lauren Adams, and Vincent D’Onofrio – all of whom bring the funny.
But the pair that really stole the show are two of the most surprising. Cole Hauser and Justin Long. Cole Hauser (most surprising of the two) uses his sleazy asshole shtick for comedic effect – intentionally – and delivers one of the funniest moments in the film. He feels sadly underused, but then again, he also feels most like a character out of Wedding Crashers, so too much could have killed the bit entirely. Justin Long, on the other hand completely transforms himself and sheds his long time one note (and yet, still adorably funny) nerdy nice guy routine for the role of Christopher, the soul patch wearing Art Fag trying too hard to be cooler than he is. Long is practically unrecognizable in the role and repeatedly induces giggle fits with his off kilter delivery.
Overall I enjoyed the film immensely, but just can’t get over the fact that this film is being released in the summer. It’s not a summer film. This is a fall release, something for the cinephiles to wash the taste of summer blockbusters from their palate. Closer in tone to The Good Girl, War of the Roses and the last half of Chasing Amy, this film is anything but heart warming. It’s a movie about watching a relationship totally self-destruct. There were moments in which my wife and I turned to one another and shared pained, apologetic looks realizing that we’d each been as retarded as the leads at one point or another. And while that certainly makes for interesting filmmaking, it is not the stuff of summer fare.
This is most likely going to become one of my ‘Break in Case of Emergency’ DVDs, left on the shelf for that day that I end up instigating some ridiculous argument I’m certain I’m in the right on, only to watch this and remind myself that I’m being a complete asshole. Because that seems to be the spirit and intent of this film. While I’m convinced that this is the perfect date therapy for troubled couples, this absolutely is not the cute date movie many are hoping it will be. And unless you’re already looking for something sharp, complicated and emotional this early in the summer, I can’t in good conscience recommend this. However, if you’re an indie lover, really dig ‘uncomfortable’ films or just have a general distaste for typical Hollywood romantic comedies, then by all means check this out - this just might be the shot in the arm you need to get you through to fall award season.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.