' Cinema Romantico: The Break Up

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Break Up

Watching "The Break Up" I found myself struck by three things.

1.) One of the ancient phrases associated with movies is, I would pay to hear (insert an actor's name) read the phonebook. It's safe to say that I would pay to hear Vince Vaughn read the phone book.

It's a personal preference, of course, but I find Vince Vaughn hilarious. His verbal assault on the poor flight attendant in "Made" is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Most screenwriters are a little sad when actors start changing lines and ad-libbing. But I doubt any screenwriter would be anything but pleased once Vince chooses to improv on the set. Everything this guy says is funny and I can't imagine it's all on the page. I'm quoting from memory here but lines like, "I'll just be a listener" and "I've got two Polish guys with no future" just slay me. His reading of the phone book wouldn't be any simple reading. He would launch into extended monologues regarding things such as, say, the origin of an absurd last name and how we went to college with a guy of the same name who enjoyed eating hot dogs with grape jelly.

2.) Wonderful supporting characters can make an okay comedy good and a good comedy great.

"The Break Up" has a few strong ones. Judy Davis chews some scenery as Jennifer Aniston's boss/artist, Marilyn Dean ("why are you blaspheming in the synagogue of Marilyn Dean"). Vincent D'Onfrio is also good as Vince Vaughn's brother and somehow manages to turn the accepting of tour logs into the most poignant moment of the whole film.

Best of all, though, is Jennifer Aniston's brother Richard (John Michael Higgins) - lead singer of a men's choir, The Tone Rangers. I loved how he posed a question at the dinner table to Vince Vaughn's brother solely so he could use the brother's answer to spin it into a diatribe on his own love for music. Come on, we ALL know people like that. Tragically, however, he's only in two scenes - arguably two of the most humorous scenes in the entire movie - including a sing-a-long at the aforementioned dinner table. Did more of this material get left on the cutting room floor? Were the filmmakers unaware of how good he was? Did the studio feel he distracted too much from the "money"?

3.) Comedies can't suddenly shift and go serious.

If you choose to be a straight comedy you can't swerve from the line. And if you desire to turn serious in the third act then you have to plant the seeds in the first and second act. Otherwise the plant of seriousness will appear a bit gangly. And oh how the third act of "The Break Up" is gangly.

It turns that way once Vince and Jennifer seem sad to have broken up. But why are they so sad? It seems more to do with jealously, and a pitiful fear of loneliness, and the screenwriter telling him they're supposed to be than anything else. Vince doesn't even talk like he did at the start of the film. I point to the scene where he has set up the dinner table for the two of them but it turns out Jennifer has brought another guy home. This was a classic set up for the Vince Vaughn pratter. But we get nothing. Don't betray the character (and the actor) because of a yearning to try and be a "real" movie.

So Vince Vaughn amused me - as usual. There were some solid supporting characters - they were just underused. And it certainly shifted with a suddeness to go serious. Therefore, Cinema Romantico gives "The Break Up" a Don't Go.

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