In which Gerry Hayes wishes he’d stayed at home and argued with his wife for two hours as it would have been less stressful…
The Break Up, 2006.
Directed by Peyton Reed.
Starring Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston.
Screenplay by Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender.
Take one gritty, depressing, kitchen-sink drama, light it a little more brightly and pawn it off as a lighthearted, frothy rom-com. Welcome to The Break-Up.
Now, I have to be fair here. I know what they were trying to do here. I know, and I really, really respect it. Reed wasn’t really trying to pass this off as carefree romance – that’s the fault of the marketers and those idiots who make trailers. I think Reed wanted to make something a little more weighty and commendable. He wanted to make something that was both funny and real. The problem is that he failed utterly at the former and, instead of real, we ended up with something that was implausible and downright depressing.
I don’t use the word ‘depressing’ lightly. I was depressed by this film. I am, genuinely, depressed when I think about it for this column. That’s not hyperbole – I really feel down when I consider this. Perhaps that says more about me than about the film. So be it.
Vaughn plays Gary Grabowski, a layabout tour-guide and Aniston is Brooke Meyers, who does something in an art gallery. For no sane reasons, they’ve ended up in a relationship and bought an apartment together.
But all is not well.
Gary’s an utter arse who can’t be bothered to pick his dirty underwear from the floor and Brooke is a nagging witch. They are Oscar and Felix with none of the charisma or humour. This is the first problem. They’re incredibly unlikable. I hated them both. Oddly, however, this didn’t make their subsequent suffering any more enjoyable to watch.
And suffer they do. In order to keep true to the title, they break-up. Oh, but there’s a rib-tickling twist. Neither wants to move out of the apartment and neither can afford to buy out the other. They decide they’ll both stay and engage in side-splitting antics in order to make the other move out.
But the antics come across as just plain mean-spirited and nasty. In what, I assume, should have been mounting levels of hilarity, I found myself growing more and more miserable and annoyed.
Perhaps the filmmakers were aware that this was a risk and so provided some thigh-slapping, light-relief in the form of Gary’s buddy, Johnny O, played by Jon Favreau. Johnny O’s advice, however, was so far removed from the ‘realism’ of the main plot as to be farcical. It might have been funny if the rest of the film had been funny but in the context of the humourless animosity of Gary and Brooke’s breakup, Johnny O’s incongruously insane pearls of wisdom serve only to make you scrunch up your face and think “what!?” To make matters worse, his blatant reversal to ‘actual good advice’ at the end is enough to make you scream at the screen.
The Break-Up is actually a brave film. It’s one that I’m surprised got made at all (although, rumour has it that it underwent some serious post-test-screening tweaking). I admire what they tried to do here but that admiration doesn’t change the fact that, as I write this, years after seeing it, I am a taut tangle of tensed muscle and have a churning pit of bile in the place where my stomach used to be. Maybe I’m not in their demographic. Perhaps it plays better to a ‘different’ cinema-goer – one who guffaws heartily as Vaughn brings home hookers or one whose regular levels of drool ratchet-up when Aniston wanders about naked – “ooooh look, I nearly saw a boob!”
All I know is that I’d rather have my bleak, vindictive spite served up as such and not packaged as playful, bubbly merriment. The Break-Up is not funny and it says far too little about anything of import to justify the enmity in which it indulges. And, if this week’s column is less jocular than usual, it’s because just thinking about The Break-Up has left me morose and angry.
Read more I Sat Through That? right here.
Gerry Hayes is a garret-dwelling writer subsisting on tea, beer and Flame-Grilled Steak flavour McCoy’s crisps. You can read about other stuff he doesn’t like on his blog at http://stareintospace.com or you can have easy, bite-sized bits of him at http://twitter.com/gerryhayes