There are some legitimate laugh-out-loud moments in The Break-Up, the much-hyped first screen pairing of Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston. While the marketing campaign makes it look like a full-blown "Vince Vaughn" comedy, with his patented brand of fast-talking, wise-ass humor, the film strives to be more. It wrings laughs out of a painful situation while giving its stars a chance to do some legitimate acting. While the end results are a bit uneven, it's likable enough to recommend.
The film opens at Wrigley Field, where Gary (Vaughn) and his buddy Johnny (Jon Favreau) are taking in a Cubs game. Gary spies Brooke (Aniston) and makes a rather obnoxious pitch to ask her out. Cut to the opening-credits photo montage depicting their happy-looking relationship and their ultimate purchase of a condo together. Their happy times are a whole other movie--one that we are not going to see.
After that sunny photo sequence, things go bad quickly. Gary would rather kick back and watch a ballgame than help Brooke prep for a dinner party. We find out Brooke refuses to allow Gary his household dream of a pool table. Her family busts out into an a capella version of Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart" at the dinner table, the kind of open expression that makes Gary wince. Gary whines when it comes to doing the dishes afterwards, and the war is on.
The two break up but continue to cohabitate while their condo goes on the market. Gary is booted off the couples' bowling team (which features Vaughn buddy and childhood star Peter Billingsley of A Christmas Story), while Brooke is subjected to stripper parties, loud music and, yes, a pool table in the dining room.
Vaughn and Aniston do well on screen together. They banter admirably, and when the shenanigans reach full-throated screaming, each is up to the task. For as many laughs as the film has, there are an equal amount of painful, discomforting moments that might make the average romantic-comedy lover cringe a bit. Each performer is asked to show off acting chops, and it's some of the best work they have each managed to put on screen.
Director Peyton Reed does a good job of steering from overblown hilarity to real-life levity. The screenplay calls for an awkward final scene between the two main characters, and this would be the one scene where Vaughn and Reed misstep horribly. Vaughn plays it a little too sweet and forced for the loutish character he spent a whole film developing, and it just feels false.
John Michael Higgins gets the film's biggest laughs as Brooke's a cappella-group brother. He only has a couple of scenes, but those scenes are two of the film's best. It's always good to see Vaughn and Favreau together, and there's a little bit of a role reversal going on in this one. While Vaughn usually plays the pighead to Favreau's super-sensitive guy, this time, it's the other way around.
The rather large supporting cast also includes Vincent D'Onofrio and Cole Hauser as Gary's brothers and business partners (they own a Chicago tour company), Jason Bateman as a "game night" friend and Joey Lauren Adams as Brooke's friend and confidant.
This isn't a great movie by any means, but it kept my interest and made me laugh audibly at least four times. While it isn't a nonstop laugh party, it doesn't contain any humor that is woefully bad. That's pretty good for a comedy nowadays, and quite honestly, one good Vaughn laugh is worth the price of a movie ticket for me.