Unexpected delight. The Vaughn factor wins out once more.
If these summer months have proven less than spectacular for film lovers then I will at least remember the past few weeks as my personal Humble Pie Holiday. Over the course of this period I have been proven frequently if not spectacularly wrong, and I am nothing if not man enough to admit my faults. Perhaps my biggest revelation comes now in the form of The Break-Up, a film that dared to unite one of my favourite comic actors, Vince Vaughn, with one of my Unholy Trinity of loathed actresses, Jennifer Aniston. Couple this with the apparent pigeon-holing of the movie into "chick flick" territory, and it's safe to say I was expecting my man Vaughn to suffer a vast indignity and my own brain a cataclysmic meltdown. Wrrrrrrrong.
It's certainly not perfect, but in many respects The Break-Up has proven one of this summer's minor treats. The title pretty much says it all, and it kind of makes me wonder when I hear people complaining about the ending (there's a biiiiig clue in that name if you look hard enough), but suffice to say Vaughn and Aniston's happy home-sharing couple Gary and Brooke suffer some relationship turbulence that leads to separation and subsequent attempts at childish one-upmanship on both sides. We're talking bringing new boyfriends home versus buying that pool table you always wanted and sitting it in the living room, and from this tactical sparring come most of the movie's amusements. Where The Break-Up differs from it's peers though, is that it's biggest moments of laughter come from a little-known thing called character, and it benefits greatly from a solid supporting cast.
As you'd probably expect, long time Vaughn sidekick and now sometimes director John Favreau is along for the ride as Gary's best mate and general hard man Johnny O, never far from prodding his friend in directions best suited to aggravating Brooke, and while the movie hardly represents the new Swingers nor even rivals Made for laughs from the pair it still proves a fruitful enough partnership to tread some water here and there. It is however the incidental characters who provide the biggest laughs, most notably Brooke's slightly camp unmarried older brother Richard (John Michael Higgins, regular of TV's Ally McBeal and Arrested Development) whose impromptu a cappella performances provide two highlights, and a criminally underused Vincent D'Onofrio as Gary's older brother Dennis, whose typically off-beat interjections don't have nearly enough screen time.
Of course my biggest source of surprise is Aniston; a woman who I have never understood the male fascination with, and, given my loathing of anything related to that bullshit Friends, has had her acting abilities singled out for detention in my book from day zero. Imagine my dismay, diluted by delight, to discover that here she has finally given up simply being "Rachel" and started attempting to portray normal women how they really behave, and in doing so also becoming strangely far more attractive. Well, to me anyway, which counts for very little I suppose, but for my two pence this is her single best performance to date. Scant praise I know, and she's not exactly looking at Oscar nominations, but it's a very positive step nonetheless and I find myself hoping against hope that the tide may well be turning.
All of which, against my prior judgements, finds the odds stacked in The Break-Up's favour. An odd outcome indeed. What's less than likely to enamour the Great Unwashed Masses is an ending that's an ambiguous treat to my eyes, but will probably be seen as downbeat by the majority of viewers. Without giving too much away, it's likely that the average Joe's expectations of this movie will be challenged some time before this, but the notion that two people can be happy regardless of the state of their relationship will no doubt be too much of a shocker for some. "Iz not lyke da fairee tale" will read the text messages from some, though hopefully enough people are going to be marginally more intelligent than that and realise that for once someone is trying to do something vaguely different with a romantic comedy FOR ADULTS, and not spotty teens shagging in the underpasses of a Friday night.
Is it going to change the world? No. Ask me next week and I might even take a star away from my initial assessment, but for now, given the mood I'm in, The Break-Up is a refreshing treat that deserves to find it's way into a lot of people's schedules. If it can make me laugh like a drain at two in the morning it can't be all that bad, and the same can be said for Miss Aniston's emergence from the doldrums of my perception into the league of genuine players. Hopefully we'll now see her choose some more challenging projects, and as for Vaughn, well, may he never change.
Jennifer Aniston (Brooke)
John Favreau (Johnny O)