When a couple (Vaughn and Aniston) split up, they both realise that neither of them wants to leave their home, and so begin behaving badly to force the other out.
You can almost see the heads of the studio’s marketing department passing out with glee. Media superhero Jennifer Aniston stars in a movie called The Break-Up at the exact moment her real-life break-up from movie heartthrob Brad Pitt is pulling the maximum amount of column inches. Laugh? Actually, not so much…
Despite its comfortably familiar rom-com trailer, the film’s more bitter than a first wife without a pre-nup. Gary and Brooke engage relentlessly in no-holds-barred brawls that leave both their co-stars and audience squirming uncomfortably, and there’s a gripping realness about Aniston and Vaughn’s raw performances.
The Break-Up inevitably starts with The Get-Together. A chance meeting at a baseball game dissolves into a relationship photo-montage of Jen and Vince that, if they were real, tabloids would happily blow their yearly budget on. As if the dissolution of the human monolith that was Brad & Jen wasn’t enough, the alleged off-screen relationship between its co-stars has made this otherwise modest little movie as talked-about as a Harry Potter release.
Which is why much has been made of the on-screen chemistry between its co-stars, scandal pundits gravely looking for signs that prove once and for all that the pair are a bona fide couple. If you’re looking for simple on-screen chemistry, however, there’s plenty to be found: between Vaughn and his former Swingers/Made co-star Jon Favreau. Favreau plays best buddy and, opportunely, bar owner Johnny O, and it’s when they’re bantering together that you’re reminded that somewhere down the line, The Break-Up was conceived as a comedy.
When Gary’s oafish ways lead to the couple calling it quits, traditional romantic comedy takes a back-seat as the couple haul each other over the coals and dare to tell it like it is. It’s funny, but the comedy turns dark as their world implodes and their friends take sides. Here, director Peyton Reed — who brought us the Kirsten Dunst cheerleading comedy Bring It On and period Ewan McGregor rom-com Down With Love — clearly gave Vaughn free reign to improvise, and few can shoot their mouth off quite as effectively.
Aniston too is no slouch, and hearing the former butter-wouldn’t-melt sitcom star cuss and swear and hold her own against the barrage of abuse — as well as reveal that finely aerobicized rear-end every heat magazine reader knows so much about — may be worth the ticket entry alone.
Released: 13 November 1999
The commentary’s rather sprightly, but the deleted scenes are not worth bothering with and the outtakes are oddly laboured. The alternative ending is a definitively different way to close the movie, but they stuck with the right one.
The Break-Up doesn’t turn the rom-com on its head, but with its focus on the darker side of love manages to gently tip it on its side.
Reviewed by Tony Horkins