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Irreconcilable differences lead to a Break-Up

by Glen Baity

Have you ever survived the end of a long relationship? Have you felt that numb sensation that only comes after you’ve invested several years’ time and energy into something only to have it disintegrate slowly over a period of months? Have you ever thought you were over someone and then, after seeing them with someone else for the first time, wanted to drink a gallon of whiskey and jump off a bridge? Have you ever reached the end of the affair and been so exhausted and lonely you really couldn’t imagine ever being happy again, in or out of a relationship?

Hilarious, isn’t it?

If those days are long gone for you, you might think I’m kidding when I say that you’ll experience echoes of that unpleasantness after The Break-Up. But trust me, you were there once. At some point in your past you, too were a sad-sack pile of sobs and whimpers that flinched at the mere thought of going outside in the daytime, listened to Counting Crows on repeat and wrote horrific poetry. Those feelings were real, and you had them, much as you’d like to forget about it.

Conjuring up those old demons anew is a film that completely misunderstands the adage that ‘“comedy equals tragedy plus time.’” Simply put, break-ups can be funny in retrospect. In the moment they can be unspeakably awful, and The Break-Up takes place entirely in that moment. Hence, not really funny. Don’t blame me ‘— it’s simple math.

The film opens with the first meeting of Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston), and the title sequence unfolds over a montage of still photos from their happy relationship, culminating in their mutual purchase of a condo in downtown Chicago.

Shortly after the opening credits, the titular break-up happens and battle lines are drawn. Each party refuses to pack up and move out of their swanky digs, in which both have invested considerable money. Boorish Gary claims the living room for his own, turning it into a frat house even Vaughn’s character from Old School would have envied. Brooke stays in the tastefully decorated bedroom, where she formulates a series of plots based on the idea that Gary could become something resembling an attractive mate if driven to change through his own jealousy.

The evolution of the split, from petty bickering to intentional sabotage to sad fishing for attention, takes up the whole film. It’s in this structure that one of The Break-Up’s principal flaw,0 is most evident: Simply put, the dynamic of this relationship is as old as football and TV dinners. Gary ‘— who ‘“isn’t a mind-reader, Brooke’” ‘— puzzles over the frustration of his girlfriend, who ‘“just wants to feel like I’m appreciated.’” Brooke thinks Gary insensitive because he can’t intuit from her hints and signals (oh, he’s such a Man), and Gary thinks Brooke is crazy because she expects him to do just that (Women ‘— who knows what they want? Am I right, fellas?).

Really, haven’t these two ever watched Oprah? The argument that leads to the relationship’s demise starts when Gary, who ‘“had a long day at work,’” refuses to help Brooke clean up after dinner, even though ‘“I worked all day too, and I’ve been cooking for three hours on top of that.’”

These are Dr. Phil relationship problems. If the film were a book, it’d be Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. These might be issues common to a lot of couples, but they’re entirely uninteresting.

Frankly, this film would have to have a much darker tone to be any fun at all. If you like either of the main characters even a little bit, it quickly becomes unpleasant to watch their personal lives implode. But Gary and Brooke are both good people, so it’s hard to derive any pleasure from watching them snipe at one another, especially when the film shows the consequences of those actions at length.

The Break-Up doesn’t work because it fails to understand that real-life break-ups are not fun. They’re not madcap, zany or enjoyable, especially when they involve two fundamentally good people that, for whatever reason, simply can’t communicate. I like that the film doesn’t make one person the hero and one the villain (at least, not for the most part), but honestly, this film didn’t call for well-developed, or even appealing characters. The premise is pure situation comedy, but its ending is more Movie of the Week than ‘“Friends.’“

This all came as something of a surprise to me. Once the dust has settled, most people tend to leave behind the more painful emotions associated with break-ups ‘— it’s just one of the many wonderful coping mechanisms we have as humans, and thank God for that. But surprise, surprise’… it still sucks to watch. Even if you’re in a happy relationship and even if your last bad break-up was years ago, this film, whether intentionally or not, could catch you off guard with the amount of post-traumatic stress it brings about. And for that reason alone, it could very well be the worst date movie since Saw II.

Glen Baity knows about those other movie critics you’ve been running around with, and baby, he forgives you. Send your tear-stained e-mails to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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