Tuesday, December 26, 2006

REVIEW: The Break-Up

A "clever romantic comedy" is what the back of the box said about The Break-Up with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn and wow, was that ever misleading advertising. The Break-Up was so un-funny and so un-romantic that my wife and I had to stop watching after half an hour—and we never do that.

Vince Vaughn is a talented comedic actor, right? In Wedding Crashers, his motor mouth antics must have made it a challenge for the film crew to keep quiet during takes. I'm not always a fan of Vaughn's schtick, yet certain roles often work well for him.

Jennifer Aniston, too, knows her chops, as her many years on Friends have proven.

So what gives? Why was this film so bad? Well, that's just it—it wasn't bad per se, just that it was poorly advertised: instead of a romantic comedy with some dramatic moments, it's actually a romantic drama with some comedic moments. Their quarrels in the first half hour are uncomfortably real, and thus not really funny at all. Honestly, what's so funny about watching people fight with such sincere malice?

I think I know what happened. If I had to guess, The Break-Up's shooting script was probably very clever and very funny, and garnered enough buzz to attract several big (comedic) names: Justin Long, Jason Bateman, Ann Margaret, Vincent d'Onofrio, Cole Hauser, Judy Davis. So, great, you've got all these great supporting actors, and you've got two amazing lead actors known for their comedic talent... so it's got to be a romantic comedy, right? Hardly. Because Vince Vaughn is notorious for his improvisational tangents, his improvs with Anison were very very good material... but only for a drama. And at times, Aniston's line delivery is so resonant that it hurts. She's clearly as gifted doing drama as she is with comedy.

The problem is that the ultra-serious tone of their fights starts the movie, so any subsequent humor has a wet towel draped over it. You keep cringing—when is the next painfully real argument going to happen? It's more angst-filled than enjoyable.

The Break-Up shows that you can have all the elements in the dish, but if they don't work together harmoniously, then you've got zilch. Setting the proper tone at the start of a story is paramount, and The Break-Up's director, the relatively unknown Peyton Reed, gave too much liberty to his comedic actors to do their thing. Everyone might have fared better, then, to clearly define the movie's tone to everyone while in pre-production... if we improv, we improv around this particular kind of tone, i.e. we don't want serious/angry, we want silly/angry.

Apparently, the critics agreed with me: 113 of 168 reviews were unfavorable. The math says that's a pitiful 33%, a big fat "F" no matter how hard you spin it.

Ready for the plot reversal?

Production Cost: $52 million
Worldwide Gross: $203 million!

Which means that The Break-Up makes a profit purely because of its star appeal, even though—as a romantic comedy—the movie stunk. Wonderful. More of the same is sure to follow.


Susan Detwiler said...

So... are you going to watch it now that you know it is a drama? After watching it I also thought "Wow, that wasn't a comedy at all." But... it was actually a pretty good movie. Painfully honest and quite accurate. Shame to miss a decent movie on account of false advertising!

Ross Pruden said...

I'm pretty "off" that film because I stil feel I was duped into seeing it.

And the truth of it is, I don't really like watching people fight like that... especially when they try to throw in some Vince Vaughn comedy to offset the drama. Had I known that's what it was, I wouldn't have rented it. Now every time I look at the box, I want to throw it across the room... not the best mindset to watch a film!