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Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Break-Up

I think I broke up with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn around February of this year. By then I was already sick to death of seeing previews and tv ads for The Break-Up, their movie that wasn’t coming out until June. It’s one thing to hype a film, but the studio started pushing this release during the Christmas movie rush and upped the spin as Aniston’s off-screen life reached the stratosphere, spinning out of control thanks to tabloid frenzy over Brad Pitt dumping her for Angelina Jolie.

By March, there wasn’t a magazine from Newsweek to the National Enquirer that wasn’t making much ado about “Brangelina” and their upcoming spawn and turning Aniston into the victim of Jolie’s man-eating wiles. Rumors surfaced that Jennifer was now being comforted by The Break-Up co-star Vince Vaughn, and by April The Break-Up became it’s own character in this soap opera as it was mentioned in every tv, magazine, and newspaper update on the latest chapter of who was doing what to whom from Hollywood to Namibia.

Now, finally, it is June, and Brangelina has spawned the $5,000,000 baby in Africa (where they went to avoid the press; yeah, right!), Jenn and Vince have been dubbed “Vaughniston” in the press, and The Break-Up has at long last hit the screen at the Essex Cinemas. To be honest, I wasn’t relishing seeing it. I was tired, tired of hearing about Brad, Jenn, Angie, and Vince, but I decided to see if all the talk resulted in anything worth the overkill in hype.

Surprisingly, the Essex Cinemas had a pretty full house for a weekday afternoon when I went to see The Break-Up. Apparently not everyone suffered from Anishaustion. As for the movie, it was definitely a surprise. What had been advertised as a comedy, playing off Vaughn’s Wedding Crashers reputation and Aniston’s ten-year gig on Friends turned out to be anything but a rollicking chuckle-fest.

The story is simple enough. It starts with the meeting of tour guide Gary Grobowski and art dealer Brooke Meyers, and in a quick montage of photographs as the
opening credits roll we see the passing of the happy years the couple then spent together, inter-cut with clips of them moving in and refurbishing the condo they share in the present.

Unfortunately, the present isn’t quite as rosy, and within a few minutes the audience clearly sees that the romance has gone south. Gary is a traditionalist, who comes home from work, cracks open a beer and puts his feet up in front of the television. He is “tired” and expects Brooke to cook, clean, and maintain their social calendar when she gets home from her job, and the idea of appreciating her extra efforts or offering to help out seems to be as foreign to him as fidelity is to Brad Pitt.

The ensuing quarrel is remarkably
graphic and extremely cutting, a definite departure from the laugh riot we were told to expect. Some of Aniston’s lines are so full of get-wrenching pain and venom that it is almost impossible not to feel them in the pit of one’s stomach and wonder if they weren’t directed at that other Pitt in some kind of cathartic on-screen version of therapy.

The climax of the escalating argument comes when both Gary and Brooke decide they are definitely breaking up. The only problem, of course, is the condo. Neither will leave, and so for the next several weeks the two live in a war zone, ostensibly to drive one another out of the home but in actuality hoping for the other to apologize and initiate a reconciliation.

There is comedy, of course, but it is
the organic type that comes more from the presentation of the two stars, especially Vaughn, who can cause laughs just from a shift of the eyes or a tip of the head. The story itself, however, just isn’t all that funny, even though it offers plenty of set-ups for potential howlers. A joint dinner of both the Grobowski and Meyers’ families introduces a cavalcade of oddballs, including Ann Margaret (Grumpy Old Men) and Vernon Vaughn (yep, Vince’s Dad) as Brooke’s parents and Vincent D’Onofrino (tv’s Law & Order) as Gary’s very strange, ear-cleaning brother. The only one at the table with anything to do is John Michael Higgins (A Mighty Wind), as Richard, Brooke’s brother, who flames as a is-he-or-isn’t-he gay member of the singing group The Tone Rangers.

Also in the cast, but barely noticeable, are director Jon Favreau (Elf; Zathura: A Space Adventure), Cole Hauser (Paparazzi), Jason Bateman (tv's Arrested Development) and an all-grown-up Peter Billingsley as Andrew, the hen-pecked husband of Brooke’s best friend Maddie (Joey Lauren Adams; Love, Fear & Rabbits). Billingsley, for those with short memories, will forever be immortalized as Ralphie, the little boy from the perennial holiday favorite A Christmas Story. It is a delight to see him back on screen after such a long absence, and even better to know that he never put his eye out as his father in A Christmas Story constantly warned him was in his future. The only real standout is Judy Davis (Marie Antoinette), who steals her limited time on-screen while playing Aniston’s boss, an art gallery owner wound so tight she could make Nancy Reagan look like a crack addict by comparison.

It’s unfortunate that with such a strong supporting cast the story sticks to the single focus of Brooke and Gary’s painful split. What could have been a slapstick battle ala The War of the Roses just ends up feeling a lot like a couple of miserable people whining and being hateful to one another. If I wanted that I could visit my in-laws. My mother-in-law, especially has turned hatefulness into a fine art, and she is a regular Michaelangelo at it.

Overall, The Break-Up is not a bad movie. It’s actually poignant in some places, and you know “poignant.” That’s the key word that spells ‘kiss of death” for most males.

As I emerged from the Essex Cinemas I ran into their swing manager Austin and asked him what he thought. He said it felt like four hours instead of two. He hated it. Yes, it was poignant. That’s French for “chick flick” and also means nothing explodes except tempers, an odd mix in the Summer of Mission Impossible III and X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Perhaps by The Break-Up 3 we can expect some real demolition, but for now you’ll have to settle for the subtlety of two people hating to be in love.

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