You know how in most romantic comedies, the best friends are nearly always more interesting than the actual leads we’re supposed to care about? The Break-Up doesn’t play that game. Vince Vaughn is the focus and the primary source of entertainment, which is all the more impressive when you consider that the supporting cast features Vincent D’Onofrio, Judy Davis, John Michael Higgins, Cole Hauser, Jon Favreau, Ann-Margret, Jason Bateman, Joey Lauren Adams and even Peter “A Christmas Story” Billingsley. Is The Break-Up worth your time? Whenever Vaughn is onscreen, it is.
Jennifer Aniston’s in it, too, but she basically plays it straight, a sounding board for Vaughn’s riffing. (He seems to have improvised much of his own stuff, which may explain his story credit.) Aniston’s strength is also her weakness: Though she’s appealing, hers is a believable, real-person beauty that’s a little less than audiences seem to want from a big star in a high concept. Aniston consistently chooses to be in better movies than, say, Angelina Jolie, but look who always gets the higher-profile jobs; when it comes to star-driven movies, unattainable glamour is the better sell. Of course, Vaughn is a very funny comic actor, so he can get away with baggy eyes and a paunch.
In fact, the whole point of this story is that, despite his many flaws, he can get by solely by being very funny. His Gary Grobowski is a self-centered smartass who’s obsessed with video games and shooting pool — hardly a catch, but he has a silver tongue and a way to make people laugh, which is how he lands a first date with ballet-loving Brooke Meyers (Aniston). Before long, however, he’s doing all that annoying man stuff that we’re pretty familiar with: throwing clothes everywhere, being highly unmotivated to do chores, and listening to his PlayStation more than to his girlfriend.
She figures that threatening to leave will make him shape up, but she has neglected to account for his boundless narcissism. Some of his complaints about her sound reasonable, but because we can only take his word for them, Brooke comes off as the better person. Of course, playing the angel is never as fun as being the imp — Brooke smells of roses, but Gary is the one to watch. Complicating matters for Gary is the Chicago condo that he and Brooke share, which neither can afford alone. This leads to a series of territorial battles; it’s pretty much the same story as Danny DeVito’s The War of the Roses, only nobody dies in this one.
The casting of Jon Favreau as Gary’s best friend, Johnny, is director Peyton Reed’s canniest choice. It gives the movie a sense of being a sequel to Swingers. This is what has become of cocktail-swilling Mike and Trent: Mike has gained weight, started going bald and become angry; Trent is still the same smooth-talking man-child, and he has a great gal, but he’s finally starting to discover that his act gets old when a decade has moved on but he hasn’t.