The Break-Up (***)

Posted on June 4th, 2006 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Unfortunately for a film like The Break-Up, the marketing dweebs in Hollywood feel compelled to over-publicize the film and let many cats out of many bags. As such, many of the best parts of this film were reruns due to their placement in the vast number of trailers and commercials for this film. Even so, the film is *still* funny, Aniston and Vaughn have the actual chemistry of an actual couple (and I don’t mean that as a reference to their supposed involvment, I mean it from a script+acting+directing perspective), and the story is fresher than it has any right to be.

For those living under a rock, the story is that Aniston’s and Vaughn’s characters meet (cute), fall in love, buy a condo together, spend a few years together, then break up during a wicked fight about pent up resentments. However, neither will leave the condo, and thereby hangs the tale. This isn’t a film as dark as something like The War of the Roses, but it’s also not When Harry Met Sally or (insert title of any Hugh Grant film). My gut feeling is that anybody who has been both in and out of love will find something to relate to in this movie.

For example, there’s a scene where the couple prepare for having both their families over for dinner. Vaughn’s sole job was to bring home 12 lemons. He brings three. When Aniston asks why he didn’t bring the 12 lemons she asked for, he wonders why she would need 12 lemons. They were for a centerpiece, and when he realizes they were “show lemons” that nobody would eat, he cares even less that he got the wrong number and suggests practical (for a man) alternatives like making the centerpiece in something smaller, like a glass, or not having a centerpiece at all and instead putting the lemons on the chicken that he tasted, implying it needs a little something.

After the dinner party, he proceeds to crash on the couch playing video games while Aniston is left with the cleanup.

Most of this information has been related in trailers, clips, and commercials, so I don’t feel bad about repeating them here, and they present the crux of the ensuing argument that causes the eponymous break-up.

There is an interesting point to this film, as with almost all films about relationships, which is that the man’s viewpoint, due to its lack of emotional sensitivity, is “wrong” and must be changed, while the women’s is “right” and long suffering. This film doesn’t paint it quite that black-and-white, but in the end it does tend in that same direction. I’ve always disliked that viewpoint, as it discounts the thoughts and feelings of men out-of-hand.

For example, *his* job involves owning a business with his three brothers, while *her* job involves working in an art gallery selling art. Having been both a business-owner and an employee, I can tell you that owning a business is orders-of-magnitude more stressful, and at the end of the day when they’ve both worked 10 hours, *he* has every right to be more spent than she does. And that’s not about gender, that’s about responsibility, risk, and stress. Now, men generally tend to hold the more stressful positions, and one may see that as gender-bias in the workplace. One might also see that as women being smart enough to *not* sell their souls to a job, or being sensitive enough to let the job rank second to the family, or simply being the one that fate decided needed to bear the children for humanity.

Also in question is the need to cleanup right away after the party. *She* has the compulsion that doesn’t allow her to sleep with a dirty kitchen, and his offer to help in the morning is seen as work-dodging (which, honestly, it probably is, but that’s not true until the next morning when he tries to get out of helping!). Aniston’s character also rejects Vaughn’s suggestion of having a pool table in the house. It doesn’t matter that it’s been a dream of his his whole life, it just doesn’t fit with her idea of their house so, poof, no pool table.

In any case, it would be nice to see Hollywood take a more balanced view of male/female relationships, but I guess there isn’t a lot of comic fodder in a balanced viewpoint. Well, one notable exception to that is Billy Crystal’s film Forget Paris, which is a wonderful and funny film that doesn’t show just a courtship or a breakup, but shows a courtship, marriage, troubles, separation, reconciliation, and all the other stuff of life. Like The Break-Up it has some serious moments as well.

In any case, in spite of all of that, The Break-Up is a solid, funny, serious/funny film about relationships. Also notable are the supporting cast, with John Favreau and Jason Bateman as friends of the couple, Vincent D’Onofrio (nearly unrecognizable and uncredited) as one of Vaughn’s brothers, and Judy Davis as the scarifying owner of the art gallery where Aniston’s character works. The bottom line is that this film was far better, to me, than most of the reviews I have seen, which I attribute at least in part to the fact that the film has much more serious content than one would be led to expect by the trailers and commercials. For me, that was a good thing.

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