Some movies appear to exist solely to showcase certain personalities, some of whom, in addition to appearing in the work, sometimes also exercise some control over or possess some financial interest in the production itself. Whether that fact explains the existence of The Break-Up remains debatable, or perhaps unknowable. But the credits list one of its two stars, Vince Vaughn, as a producer and one of the contributors of the original story, which certainly suggests something beyond art for the sake of art.
The movie itself looks like the sort of pseudo-hip trivia dreamed up by a team of Hollywood scriptwriters attempting their own version of Woody Allen, a somewhat fatigued version of traditional romantic comedy that actually resembles an inflated television show. It depends upon just enough plot and people, and the sort of flat, unchanging characters that provide the familiar substance of so many TV comedies, including Friends, the one that propelled the female lead of The Break-Up, Jennifer Aniston, to stardom. More important, many of its scenes and much of its dialogue depend upon the kind of small-screen, sitcom imagination that dominates the gags and jokes.
The situation grows out of the now classic and frequently repeated Neil Simon formula of the odd couple, in this case Gary (Vaughn) and Brooke (Aniston), who live together in a roomy condo in a pleasant Chicago neighborhood. With his two brothers, Gary runs a tour bus company --- he rides the upper deck, performing a rapid spiel full of jokes and wisecracks for the delighted tourists, demonstrating the gift of gab that enabled him to meet Brooke in the first place. His girlfriend, on the other hand, works in an elegant upscale art gallery, selling expensive paintings to wealthy clients and obeying the whims of a demanding, narcissistic boss.
The only surprise in the couple's separation, which occurs quite early in the picture, involves their being together at all. The movie supplies no good reason for this pleasant, attractive, intelligent, moderately cultured young woman to love this dumb, porky, garrulous, self-involved slob whose major recreation appears to consist of sprawling on the couch watching TV or playing video games. Their split, initially sparked by his failure to contribute anything to help her with a dinner party or anything else, seems inevitable.
Most of the movie displays the juvenile, occasionally comic hostilities between the ex-couple --- dividing the apartment into separate zones, excluding each other from their regular circle of activities, embarrassing each other in front of their friends, and, of course, seeing other people. On the advice of her friends, Brooke dates a couple of losers, while Gary hosts a wild strip poker party in the living room. In one of the several instances of an idea that goes nowhere, Brooke undergoes a drastic waxing --- her boss calls it the "TellySavalas," which should give you the idea --- and walks naked through the living room. The writers apparently intended the scene to precipitate any number of reactions in Gary, but actually results in nothing at all, and means nothing at all.
The rest of the movie alternates between the increasingly uninteresting separate lives of the two as they undergo the pain of the split. Much of the action and dialogue again employ the perfunctory approach of a television show, with scenes constructed mostly around two people talking and talking, building an easy gag, making a quick point, with no logical follow through. When the break-up that occupies the center of all the action becomes final, it seems none too soon, but at the same time as purposeless as its first moments.
Except perhaps for Judy Davis as Brooke's boss in the art gallery, none of the actors, including the principals, achieves anything like success in their roles. No longer Sandburg's city of big shoulders, Chicago these days appears the city of big bellies, with the corpulent Vaughn, Jon Favreau, and Vincent D'Onofrio all occupying large areas of the screen. Whatever their differences, movies like Annie Hall, Manhattan, and even When Harry Met Sally (which The Break-Up resembles or even copies) show that some real wit and poignancy accompany their subject, and that whatever their merits, Chicagoans are considerably fatter than New Yorkers
The Break-Up (PG-13), directed by Peyton Reed, is playing at Culver Ridge 16, Pittsford, Henrietta 18, Webster 12, Tinseltown, Greece Ridge 12, and Eastview 13.