Written by Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender from a story by star Vince Vaughn, The Break-Up is a tale about a couple who probably shouldn't have and certainly end up wishing they hadn't. Vaughn stars as lumpy Gary Grobowski, a fast-talking, Cubs-freak Chicagoan who has put his motor mouth to use as a Windy City tour guide for a company he owns with his two brothers. One day at Wrigley Field, Gary spies beautiful Brooke Meyers (Jennifer Aniston) and promptly harangues her into going out with him. He's so obnoxious we don't understand why she relents, and she will eventually rue the day she does. We are asked to believe, I guess (the scenes aren't included), that Gary and Brooke enjoy a mutual physical attraction. They have to have that because they have so little else. Gary is like a 14 year old in a giant adult body. He's a slob who leaves food in the living room and dirty clothes in the kitchen. When Brooke isn't looking, he shoves the dining table against the wall and parks a pool table in the middle of the dining room. Brooke, meanwhile, is a woman of considerably more refinement. She works in a highbrow art gallery, prides herself as a tasteful home decorator and yearns for more opportunities to attend the ballet. The wonder from the beginning isn't that Brooke and Gary break up but that they ever had a second date.
The idea that a loving couple finally may not be able to live together is a perhaps hardy but hardly new dramatic concept. Stanley Donen's Two For the Road, Woody Allen's Annie Hall and Alan Parker's Shoot the Moon, to name just three excellent examples, all previously explored this territory with memorable success. And, to be fair, The Break-Up has its effective moments. Gary and Brooke's initial argument is very well executed and rings true, managing to be at once funny and edgy. Brooke has come home early to prepare dinner for both their families. Gary arrives home from work late, tired and grouchy. Moreover, he's misunderstood a shopping instruction Brooke's given him. She's anxious about treating her guests well and wants him to assist her in the evening's final preparations. He wants just a few moments of down time. Then, all in an instant, they are in full verbal combat. Since most of us have played either or both roles in this scene, we find it convincing. Alas, until the end, the picture is all down hill from here.
I will concede that since I discovered Friends in rerun, Jennifer Aniston has vaulted into my galaxy of fantasies. Nonetheless, I can't help but note how much better the script treats her character than it does Vaughn's -- to the film's detriment. Brooke is misguided in thinking that she can manipulate Gary into becoming a better companion, and she, like Gary, is woefully unbelievable in refusing, even at the 11th hour, to confess her true feelings. But the longer we're around him, the more Gary reveals himself to be a selfish jerk. To get inside us, a picture like The Break-Up first needs to convince us its characters really love each other. But instead of dramatizing scenes of Gary and Brooke being happy and comfortable together, the picture merely flashes a series of still photos behind the opening credits. In hindsight, every one of these snapshots seems fraudulent. After the movie reveals its characters' shortcomings, it needs to make us root for their being able to grow enough to work things out. Instead, The Break-Up makes us hope that Brooke will stop fooling around with Gary sooner so that she can get involved with the nice patron she's been assisting at the art gallery before it's too late.
I need to acknowledge that The Break-Up does go somewhere we don't quite expect, and in a Hollywood that seldom risks freshness, it deserves credit for daring to be different. But that one plot turn is hardly sufficient to make up for an ill-considered core narrative that persistently pulls against its own best interests.