Attempting to follow in the footsteps of such films as Scenes From a Marriage and Modern Romance, The Break-Up tells the story of Chicago couple Gary and Brooke. After witnessing their first meeting at a Cubs game and an opening credits slide show of the "good times," the movie walks us through their long, painful divide.
Gary gives bus tours of downtown Chicago; he likes to drink beer, watch sports on TV and play video games. Brooke works in an art gallery. And she's got a few things she'd like Gary to change about himself. Gary doesn't want to. Brooke is willing to risk their relationship to force Gary to change to keep her. Gary digs his heels in. After she dumps him in their initial blow-up, both refuse to give up the cool downtown condo they bought and remodeled together, so their battle balloons.
Brooke's and Gary's friends are supportive of them during their breakup, offering comfort and attempting to give the couple glimpses of reality beyond the feud. [Spoiler Warning] With their help, Gary eventually comes face-to-face with his utter selfishness and narcissism. As a result, he begins to make changes in all of his relationships. In kind, Brooke faces some of her mistakes in the relationship and in her life choices.
Gary and a couple of other characters make repeated crude comments and jokes about sex. In describing Brooke's family, Gary uses crude language to remind her that her dad "touched" an exchange student, that her sister had sex with the Arizona Cardinals offensive line, and that her brother is gay. (She denies the latter charge, though her brother's effeminate personality is played for laughs.)
Gary's younger brother is acknowledged by all the other characters as "a pervert," taking Gary to a club full of "young, dumb, a--" where several women are seen in revealing clothing. He begins to describe to two women what he'd like to do to them sexually using plastic wrap. Later, he and Gary entertain a group of (what seem to be) strippers and/or prostitutes for a night of strip poker. The camera glimpses several of them in revealing outfits; one is very briefly seen partially naked making out with Gary's brother. Gary is naked except for a couch pillow in his lap.
Elsewhere, some of Brooke's tops are low-cut. Taking advice from her boss to get a below-the-belt wax job called the "Telly Savalas," Brooke is seen (from behind) walking naked through the condo to make Gary jealous about a date with another guy. To fight back, Gary tells the guy what drinks get her in the mood for sex and what sexual fantasies she likes. Later, we glimpse a naked male torso as Brooke's boss sketches a nude model in her office. Brooke sees him from both front and back, and we see the drawing of what the boss calls his "gorgeous tuckus."
An unlikely character takes an angry Gary down with a few effective punches and kicks, resulting in a bloody nose and bruised throat. We watch Gary play a few violent seconds of Grand Theft Auto and a boxing video game.
Crude or Profane Language
In addition to one use of the f-word and about 20 s-words, "d--n" is exclaimed around 25 times, usually with God's name in front of it. Jesus' name is used for swearing close to 10 times. Also heard are 10 or so uses each of "a--" and "h---." Crude language includes multiple uses of slang for parts of the male and female anatomy and several descriptive phrases for sex.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wine and beer are consumed at dinner parties and at a bar. Gary drinks harder stuff from the bottle when he has the strippers over.
Other Negative Elements
Gary's younger brother begins to make a crude racial joke at a dinner party.
Fans of Vince Vaughn's rapid-fire comic delivery might find a few laughs in the very early going of this so-called "anti-romantic comedy." But after sitting all the way through The Break-Up, fans of Vaughn and co-star Jennifer Aniston might be harder to find. This unlikable film does neither many favors.
Vaughn bludgeons what remains of the charm from his aging frat-boy act by forcing us to imagine what it might be like to actually live with him 20 years, 25 pounds and zero maturity after college graduation. He so clearly doesn't deserve to be in any kind of relationship with Anniston's pleasant (if vacant) character that she loses likeability points for not seeing through his shtick in the first place.
It's not that their arguments don't ring true. Anyone who's ever been in a relationship will recognize the familiar accusations, counterattacks, hurtful comments, attempts to get even, and resulting regret. In fact, that's the problem. The spatting in The Break-Up settles for re-creating pedestrian domestic squabbling instead of making it outrageous enough to laugh at or making it revealing enough to move us. All we're left with is sitting on the sidelines with the couple's friends thinking, "These people need to grow up already."
And to be fair, the film does suggest that the breakup forces both to take stock of themselves and change for the better. For me, it also exposes the flaw in the relationship philosophy that suggests it's wiser to live together before getting married. Some might surmise that the story of The Break-Up confirms the need to avoid the marriage commitment until you see how things will go in a condo. As rational as that sounds, the point is missed. The commitment and self-sacrifice of marriage is designed to hold two selfish people together as they learn to be less selfish people. It's not, of course, that married people don't go through seasons of fighting like the couple in this film; it's that the deep commitment of biblical marriage forces them back to self-sacrifice, forgiveness and finding new ways to reconnect. We're meant to grow together through the storms of growing up instead of growing up through the storms of repeated failed relationships. Marriage is always hard work. Living together first doesn't make it easier. It just makes it easier to get out.
Come to think of it, though, getting out isn't a bad idea if you find yourself in the vicinity of The Break-Up. Why commit yourself to 90 coarse (and slow) minutes of watching this couple's relationship grind to a painful stop?
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Vince Vaughn as Gary; Jennifer Aniston as Brooke; Jon Favreau as Johnny O; Joey Lauren Adams as Addie; Jason Bateman as Riggleman; Vincent D'Onofrio as Dennis; Cole Hauser as Lupus; Peter Billingsley as Andrew; John Michael Higgins as Richard; Ann-Margret as Brooke's Mom; Judy Davis as Marilyn Dean; Justin Long as Christopher