As I was leaving this considerably anticipated matchup between lovable Vaughn and the Woman Who by All Rights Should Have Had Brad’s Baby This Week, a guy said to me, “You gotta admit it’s pretty good, right? For a romantic comedy, it’s pretty good.” I will admit it: for a romantic comedy, The Break-Up
is pretty good. It’s a pretty good genre film you see with your friends and you laugh a few times, and look – isn’t that Ann-Margret? Davis is a hoot as a gallery owner who’s oh, so catty, and she has the cutest little fey assistant (Long, who’s quite good if you like fey gallery assistants in your comedy). There are some funny flourishes in the script, written by two novices with Vaughn providing the story, and the director is sort of fluffy (Bring It On)
but also kind of zingy (Down With Love)
if not always precisely on the mark. It’s all put together with a sort of self-satisfaction, as if to say, “We have made a pretty good romantic comedy. We expect it to make bank pulling in mall people and a certain demographic of art people. Jon Brion’s on the soundtrack, and the Old 97’s show up. Favreau’s the buddy, and the movie deals with the parts of a relationship you never see in mainstream movies – just the ugly and gristly bits, the part where you’re having problems and unable to stay together. We think it’s kind of edgy, and did we mention that magazine readers have sympathy for Aniston right now?” So that’s pretty much what the movie aspires to be. Thirtysomething icon Aniston grieves a failed relationship in one half of the movie, while thirtysomething icon Vaughn grows up in the other. It could be a lot more than a pretty good romantic comedy. It could be good for a movie
, not just for a romantic comedy. (I’ve never really understood why the people who profess to like romantic comedies have such low standards for the form generally. Love is important, and we shouldn’t let people get away with making mediocre movies about it.) But everybody’s sleepwalking here. Vincent D’Onofrio is fantastic with Vaughn in a small part as his brother, but it’s as if he’s running in during a break from Law & Order: Criminal Intent
. Adams is a boring movie-mom who supplies the best-friend element. Throw in an oddball thing like a closeted gay brother who sings a cappella. We get Hauser as the gross brother whose misogyny and pursuit of “top-shelf, young, dumb ass” is the example of What Not to Be, Dude in the Vaughn-Favreau Universe of Masculinity. (Although it wasn’t a big deal in the indie world, the guys’ earthiness seems a little stringent in this megaplex offering.) It’s a checklist of summer-movie elements arranged with enough care to suggest that it should add up to more than a pleasant diversion.