PR pitch for The Break-Up: “An unconventional romantic comedy”. Too right. For starters, it’s about as romantic as a dose of the clap. Director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down With Love) cuts to the chase like an Olympic sprinter: there’s a pre-title cutesy meet-up, followed by a snapshot montage of How It Used To Be. And then straight into the main event: Vince Vaughn versus Jennifer Aniston, 107 minutes of psychological combat for the prize of an admittedly swanky Chicago pad. Weapons of choice? For him, pool tables and strip-poker parties; for her, studly dates and Alanis Morissette at full volume.
Breaking up is hard to do, as the song goes, but it’s no bloody picnic to watch either, especially when you feel like you’re in the same room as the loggerheaded couple. Gary and Brooke’s big declaration-of-war barney – sparked, in authentically petty fashion, by a pointless row over dirty dishes – is sheer watch-through-the- fingers carnage. And this is just the beginning of the nightmare.
Which puts us in a pickle as far as the ‘comedy’ half of the equation’s concerned. The Break-Up is funny, whether you’re talking barbed banter (“My sister’s been through a lot!” yelps Brooke; “Of dick!” sneers Gary), bit-parters camp (warbler John Michael Higgins) and vamp (Judy Davis’ gallery owner), or a secret weapon we’ll get to in a sec. Trouble is, there’s not enough sugaring of the pill. With sour soap operatics outweighing wicked wit (a la War Of The Roses), you’re as likely to feel drained as entertained. What’s more, with a slob on one side and a shrew on the other, rooting for the relationship to revive proves a tall order.
So thank heavens for Jon Favreau – the secret weapon, the ace up Reed’s sleeve – as Gary’s bartender bud. Okay, they may have become the fattest Swingers in town, but Vaughn and Fav are still money when it comes to comic improv: check out the gold they mine in their final shared scene. Watchable even while you wince, this isn’t a bad film – but it’s only when Favreau’s on screen that The Break-Up truly comes together.
Last-date rather than first-date fare, this US hit needs more big laughs to balance the bile. Still, Favreau will get you through the rough patches.