Stuff To Watch(?): ‘The Break-Up’

Well I went to see a matinee of ‘The Break-Up’ yesterday and I have some ponderous thoughts on it, now that I’ve had a chance to sleep on it.

I want to pick up a few ideas that have occured to me and weave them together. One thing that occurs to me is in a conversation I had with ‘Vincent’ at the Yahoo! DASH group (use the search box on this blog to find old posts about what DASH is and who ‘Vincent’ might or might not be). I am thinking on ‘Vincent’s’ analogy of the mission of an actor is akin to making a request of someone in the audience to do them a favor, say, to go and pick up a newspaper for them.

If you’re going to ask a favor of someone, one thing you can’t be is off-putting. You can’t do things that deliberately or unintentionally alienate the person of whom you are making the request, because if you do, the favor will never be done.

First of all every ‘newspaper’ in every supermarket check-out line or on every newsstand has been full of what I find to be extremely off-putting discussion of four celebrities and parts of their lives for which the price of my matinee admission ticket (much less the papers in question) is utterly inadequate compensation. I don’t feel entitled to have access to this part of their lives. I don’t care that they’re American media ‘royalty’, in fact, that isolates me from them more than I can express. I know of no one in real life with the physical attributes of, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Ms. Aniston, nor do I know of anyone with any of their particular combination of off-screen interests. I only know of them what I have seen on screens of varying sizes, and what I have seen I did not like. The fact that so many are willing to trade on this discussion repels me to such an extent that the prospect of going to see ‘The Break-Up’ made my stomach queasy.

With Vince Vaughn, I have a very schizophrenic relationship to him as a member of an audience. I do know of people in real-life who are like the character type he likes to play. My father’s side of my family are all from the South Side of Chicago, and I can see humor in what I call here a ‘Full Metal Rant’ (as I am as guilty of verbal diarrhea as Vaughn is, although his is more broadly humorous than mine is).

In his performances, I find Vaughn very random. I was repelled by him in movies like ‘Made’ and ‘Swingers’, I was indifferent to him in movies like ‘The Cell’ (frankly any actor can adequately play a cop or FBI agent as the plethora of popular US TV dramas about cops/FBI agents/law enforcement types shows), and I went into ‘Thumbsucker’ with no expectations of Vaughn being able to do much more than an adequate job. Vince Vaughn’s Mr. Geary blew me away — he was funny, witty, ascerbic, creepy, quirky, a bit enigmatic and utterly human. He completed ‘Thumbsucker’ beautifully and now I can’t imagine ‘Thumbsucker’ without Vaughn’s Geary.

So I held out a little hope that maybe, just maybe I could connect with at least one major character in ‘The Break-Up’.

I am surprised to say that I did briefly connect to Vaughn, but it was very very late in ‘The Break-Up’, too late to make a difference in my enjoyment of the film.

The actor I most identified with? Jane Hu.

So who the heck is she? She plays Diane, a woman on a first (and presumably last) date with Johnny O (Jon Favreau) who comes to the condo of Gary (Vaughn) and Brooke (Aniston) for a couples game night with a man she barely knows. I’m sure this character Diane wasn’t expecting anything any heavier or more rancorous or confusing than some spirited debates on the finer points of the rules of Pictionary. But the sheer look of horror on her face as this random couple she has never met before and knows nothing about verbally evicerate each other in front of their friends struck me to the core.

My overall experience of ‘The Break-Up’ was basically Diane’s. I didn’t get to know Gary and Brooke, I didn’t understand why they would ever hook up in the first place, I didn’t see that they had any common ground or shared pleasant experiences (and the critic Roger Ebert astutely points out that a montage of dopey couples photos buried under the opening credits does nothing to make an audience feel as if there’s a real relationship to care about and be moved by when it craters — that should have been conveyed by actual scenes performed by Vaughn and Aniston), and so the fighting was embarassing, repellent, and off-putting. Frankly I (and Diane) couldn’t wait for the experience to be over with.

I could also relate to Peter Billingsley’s Andrew (the husband of Brooke’s best friend Maddie, who is played by Joey Lauren Adams as if she’s some kind of freakish devotee of a ‘Self-Help Book Of The Month Club’, spouting platitudes at every turn that got zero laughs) — his perpetual ‘deer in the headlights’ expression I must have been wearing too for the duration of ‘The Break-Up’.

I still say that Jennifer EWWW Aniston deserves the name I gave her in earlier blog postings. I still say that whatever it is she does on camera is not ‘acting’. She had one scene with all the actors (VDO included) at a ‘first meeting of the families’ dinner party, and every actor on the set put her to shame. Thankfully VDO barely interacted with her (which to me says that he’s smart enough to realize a dearth of talent when it’s right in front of him) and worked to connect with the rest of the cast and the audience (which he did brilliantly). Brooke is shrill, brittle, cliched, and too damned *dumb* to end up with Gary even if he really is what she wants.

Moving on to Vince Vaughn, well I’m heartbroken that his Gary behaved as if Brooke was a fashion accessory to his ‘real guyish guy’ lifestyle (“Lessee, buddy to go to ballgames with? Check, that’s Johnny O. Goofy brothers? Got ’em. Bigscreen TV, videogame console, plenty of beer? All covered! Slacker appropriate job? Mmmm-hmmm…got that too, plus being a tour guide I get to be the center of attention, the ‘talent’. Now what do I need? Oh yeah a sweet condo and a hot looking chick and I’ll be set!”). Vaughn’s Gary spends most of his time in ‘The Break-Up’ behaving as boorishly as if were Troy Duffy, a never-was Hollywood burnout ‘filmmaker’ who created ‘The Boondock Saints’ and was as real-life repelling as he could be in the documentary ‘Overnight’.

Only late in the film does Gary get a clue and show some fricking insight and consideration for others. Vaughn’s sweetest scene comes with VDO; when Gary finally decides to do something nice for someone else, the first recipient of Gary’s newfound gratitude is VDO’s Dennis. When Gary finally takes some responsibility for his job, it’s priceless to watch Dennis’s overjoyed reaction and that scene alone is what saves this film from being an utter washout for a VDO fan, although VDO’s 3 other scenes have their moments too. There’s nothing earth-shattering to a VDO fan or someone who follows VDO’s career, he reliably delivers yet another unique and interesting performance in his 10 minutes of screen time, but it’s nothing as wonderful as ‘Edgar’ from ‘Men In Black’, ‘Pvt. Pyle’ in ‘Full Metal Jacket’, — it’s more on the level of ‘Dominic’ in ‘Mr. Wonderful’: a performance that is in service to the film, memorable and unfortunately all too brief.

I guess that basically because ‘The Break-Up’ has so many isolating things surrounding it — tabloid press, self-absorbed celebrity, self-absorbed and downright selfish characters, a story that is stingy with any affection shared by Brooke and Gary or ‘feel good’ moments that audiences attending a romantic comedy have a right to expect, substituting instead interminable scenes of Brooke and Gary isolating themselves from each other (by listening to IPods or playing video games) or fights that are creepy and pathological — well I certainly don’t want to do them a favor by recommending ‘The Break-Up’ to other potential viewers. If you can’t connect to the film in the first place, how can you possibly appreciate its ‘break-up’??

I would be more than glad to set fire to a few tabloids for ‘Vincent’ though (and by extension doing a favor for all of us). As for fetching him a newspaper, well there’s plenty of positive reviews for Dennis already that ‘Vincent’ can check out himself. I’d rather pick up a good book for him to read, or better yet send him a terrific script, maybe even one with a part for his friend, Vince Vaughn — I think they could make a terrific buddy comedy together.

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