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The Break-Up

By now, it's clear that Vince Vaughn deserves marquee roles — after his memorable 1996 breakout in Doug Liman's Swingers, the young actor earned steady film work, but he nonetheless failed to find the sort of material that suited his unique talent. That changed after he joined Hollywood's emerging "Frat Pack," where he collaborated with Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, and Will Ferrell in several hit comedies, including Old School, Wedding Crashers, Starsky & Hutch, and Dodgeball. However, while 2006's The Break-Up includes supporting cast who have worked with Vaughn all the way back to Swingers, it's very much his own project, right down to its conception. Vaughn originally suggested the idea of an anti-romantic comedy — concerning a couple who have just split up, rather than just met — to writers Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender, who completed the script over several months at Vaughn's home. The finished product — and Vaughn's close connections with several actors — got the film a green-light, despite the fact that it's not a Frat Pack romp and barely fits into any ready-made genre. Vaughn stars as Gary Grobowski, a Chicago tour-bus guide in partnership with his entrepreneurial brothers (Cole Hauser and Vincent D'Onofrio). He and his live-in girlfriend, art dealer Brooke Meyers (Jennifer Aniston), realize that their relationship is growing more permanent every day, which leads them to invite their families over for dinner. However, as soon as the dinner is over, a petty argument between Gary and Brooke escalates into a full-scale shouting match, and before bedtime they have broken up. Brooke seeks advice from her married friend Addie (Joey Lauren Adams), while Gary vents to bartender buddy Johnny O (Jon Favreau). The pair appear ready to make a clean break, except for two things: Brooks hopes by breaking up with Gary that she will somehow bring him back to her as a changed man, and neither can leave their condo, which they own jointly and is too valuable of an investment property to simply let go. Gary thus moves into the living room, and the two try to carry on somewhat normally. However, Brooke has him voted off of their bowling team, and after an awkward game of Pictionary with friends their Realtor (Jason Bateman) offers an intervention. But it's only after a quick sale of the condo is arranged that Brooke realizes she's about to lose Gary for good.

While The Break-Up was a box-office success (grossing $118 million domestically), it appeared early publicity would nearly derail it. In part, the film's promotional campaign seemed to suggest the movie would be a sort of rom-com Dodgeball, causing many ticket-buyers and critics a bit of confusion when faced with an occasionally somber story about the disintegration of a loving relationship. Jennifer Aniston also was in the wake of her high-profile divorce from Brad Pitt, and gossip columnists had already tagged Vaughn as the next man in her life. However, The Break-Up has virtually nothing to do with its stars' private lives or previous films they have done, and perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is the script. Garelick and Lavender (with Vaughn earning story credit) draw on several antecedents (from Woody Allen films to a bit of Old School frivolity), but it appears they weren't very concerned with the sort of reaction they might get from one scene to the next, instead content to see how Vaughn's anti-romance premise might play out. At times, it's terribly funny, but Brooke and Gary's fights don't deliver memorable punch-lines as much as they open old wounds with passive-aggressive comments and pointless, tangential debates abut things that didn't even matter five minutes ago. Some might suspect that they were poorly matched from the outset; others can consider that they're too self-absorbed to communicate with each other at all. But the sad fact remains that some adult relationships are not meant to be — a fact often revealed by cohabitation, when the fun of dating is replaced by the give-and-take of domestic responsibilities in shared space. Extract any given line, and it's funny (Brooke: "My sister's been through a lot." Gary: "Of dick."). But The Break-Up is all about the context of these conversations, which is anything but frivolous and will strike some sort of nerve, somewhere, with virtually every viewer.

*          *          *

Universal's DVD release of The Break-Up offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1:85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston can be heard on one commentary, while director Peyton Reed offers a second track. Other extras include the featurettes "The Making of The Break-Up" (15 min.) and "In Perfect Harmony: The Tone Rangers" (6 min.), an interactive ""Three Brothers: A Tour of Chicago," an improve with Vaughn and Jon Favreau, six deleted scenes, three extended scenes, seven outtakes, and an alternate ending with commentaries, which — like the film's conclusion — isn't entirely satisfactory, illustrating just how difficult it is to give an anti-genre script a "happy" genre ending. Keep-case.

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