While we never run out of analogies and metaphors for relationships and their successful navigation, one thing is for certain and that is the need for balance of one’s own needs with those of their partner. So permit me one more comparison in saying that navigating a relationship can be likened to the delicate walking of a balance beam and as Peyton Reed’s film The Break-Up opens, we realize that in Vince Vaughn we have a rather gifted gymnast… if indeed there were a category for verbal gymnastics. At a baseball game with bartender friend Johnny (Jon Favreau), Gary (Vaughn) notices the lovely Brooke (Jennifer Aniston). The fact that she’s at the game with another man isn’t an obstacle but a way in for Gary with conversation after he first makes her acquaintance by buying several hotdogs and offering her one. After the game, Gary lunges at the opportunity to ridicule the tucked in shirt, visor on head, plaid short wearing man Brooke had been with in an exhaustively funny and seemingly improvised fresh burst of dialogue that leaves Brooke helpless, annoyed yet intrigued. She's hooked and the effect of his words draw her as well as the audience in and we next see a photograph filled credit sequence catching us up with their relationship that speeds by until we meet up with them years later, now living in a condo in Chicago. However, predictably as is sometimes the case, Gary’s selfishly childish sense of entitlement that managed to charm Brooke and us we quickly foreshadow will be precisely the wedge that drives them apart.
Brooke, a modern art-dealer working for the pretentious and egomaniacal Marilyn Dean (Judy Davis)—indeed a woman whose name is almost always said with both the first and last parts together—returns home to clean and prepare an intricate dinner for both her prim family and Gary’s admittedly rowdy brood of brothers who, like Gary, are involved in a Chicago tourism company that now is on land but in the future hopes to take the city by air and sea as well. The bickering Brooke and Gary kick off the evening assigning blame and accusation and then, when the dinner is served have another disagreement that isn’t exactly helped by Brooke’s closeted brother Richard (John Michael Higgins whom audiences will recognize from Christopher Guest films) who choose to launch the guests into a full-fledged sing-a-long ala his male musical group The Tone Rangers. After the music stops and the relatives leave, Brooke and Gary’s disagreements culminate into a huge blow-out where the two break up, he leaves and despite her hope that he’ll return to apologize and change, man’s man Gary eventually comes back home to declare war as lines are drawn and the condo turns into a battlefield with friends such as Jason Bateman, Joey Lauren Adams and Favreau having to choose sides.
An astute film that’s even funnier on repeat viewings as the first time around it cuts a little too deeply and the jokes are too close to comfort as I distinctly remember seeing more than a few women in the theatre crying. This in itself is a testament to the script, which was based partially on the plot idea of Vaughn himself and it’s interesting that one of his ex-girlfriends (Joey Lauren Adams) is involved in the film as well as his soon-to-be-ex Aniston who was coming off the heels of her divorce to Brad Pitt and it was Vaughn who co-starred in the movie that brought Pitt and Jolie together—Mr. and Mrs. Smith. While it may not be the best choice for the early stages of a relationship nor for viewing if one is beginning to feel that their relationship is growing stale, The Break-Up is probably best seen in the company of friends where viewers are most at ease and able to delight in one of Aniston’s better comedic performances opposite the always watchable Vaughn.