Paradoxes run rampant throughout The Break-Up—in its narrative conceit, about a Chicago couple who end their relationship but continue living in their jointly owned condo; in the fact that its two leads became an item while making a movie about the conclusion of a union (and after one of them had just endured a lengthy public divorce, no less); and in the revelation that this marquee summer-season romantic comedy frequently behaves like a bitter, Scenes From a Marriage-lite drama. It’s the last of these ironies that’s most calamitous for Peyton Reed’s cynical, bittersweet war-of-the-exes tale, as a borderline-schizophrenic tone regularly undercuts both the nasty, biting humor and weepy sentimentality of Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender’s story about the combative fallout from Windy City tour bus guide Gary (Vince Vaughn) and art gallery manager Brooke’s (Jennifer Aniston) dissolution as a happy duo.
Given the breezy bounce of Reed’s prior Bring It On and Down with Love, it’s disheartening to find his latest jaunt slogging along without any vivacity or sense of rhythm, shortcomings attributable both to the preponderance of scenes set in Gary and Brooke’s nondescript, boxy condo living room—which has all the distinctive personality of a Pottery Barn showroom—and to headliners whose microscopic measure of chemistry is buried under mountains of unbearable bickering and bitching. The Break-Up is basically a series of malicious arguments pockmarked by interludes of seemingly improvised rat-a-tat-tat riffing from Vaughn and myriad one-note cameos from an array of generally squandered supporting players (including John Favreau, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ann-Margret, Jason Bateman, Joey Lauren Adams, and Judy Davis in super-diva mode), with two stereotypically fey gay characters—both of whom love to randomly break into song—thrown into the overcrowded mix for the purpose of dim-witted comedic relief.
Once again making a bid for legitimate big-screen popularity, Aniston scowls, shouts, and exercises her tear ducts with serviceable efficiency but little charisma, her blandly cute Friends feistiness consistently overwhelmed by the portly Vaughn’s raffish, garrulous magnetism. Still, even the Wedding Crashers funnyman’s whirlwind, stream-of-consciousness gibber-gabber seems depressingly dampened by the film’s antiquated battle of the sexes hogwash, which mainly revolves around Gary being an inattentive, video game-loving couch potato who needs to be mommied, and Brooke being a career woman who’s nonetheless happy to do all the cooking, cleaning, and doting so long as, in return, her slovenly boyfriend gives her some appreciation. It’s tough, however, to have much admiration for a klutzy, limp, and largely laugh-free rom-com whose funniest moment—involving Vaughn letting loose with a montage-worthy avalanche of PS2 trash talk—is unimaginatively recycled from its star’s (now 10-year-old) breakthrough indie Swingers.