Games People Play

The Break-Up

Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston star in a film written by Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender and directed by Peyton Reed.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard

Somewhere in the middle of this pleasant blur of an extended sitcom, you may find yourself lost in a distracting reality check. As even a casual peruser of tabloid covers, stuck in grocery store lines with nowhere more compelling for your eyes to go, you know about Jennifer Aniston and her breakup with that other guy and the arrival of this less Adonis-like but solid jokester in her life. Meanwhile, the Pitt/Jolie side of the sordid saga continues, another branch of this breaking news story of mediocre, beautiful thespians.

Oh, sorry, we’re talking about this movie. It’s an extended riff about a breakup, and all the games people play along its protracted path. We’re confused, naturally. Are the real-life follies from the tabloids actually plotted by the publicity department as a new kind of sneaky, bass-ackward promotional campaign for the film? Is the film a sneaky promotional campaign for the cash-rich tabloids? Or are they all in it together, conspiring to extract our dollars coming and going, in schemes coming soon to grocery stores and multiplexes everywhere? Life in the 21st century is so confusing.

Most of all, it’s confusing that Aniston keeps finding her way to the big screen, since it seems that the comfy confines of a small screen series is better suited to her small-scale charms. Vince Vaughn, meanwhile, co-wrote the story and gets all the zinger lines (plus, he has the natural comic timing to deliver them, while Aniston is more catty and self-righteous, even though her complaints about the self-absorbed male party are warranted).

The scene is Chicago. Aniston works in an art gallery and Vaughn flexes his gruff charisma as a bus tour guide, and they’re a loving couple at the start, we presume. A rough evening of quarreling and quibbling leads to an idle threat of a breakup, and instead of leading to quick resolution and make-up sex, opens up a cruel back-and-forth as the lovers taunt and test each other. We can view it in terms of a game, in which the conniving lines and maneuvers they make never reveal the true feelings, implicitly supplied in thought bubbles we in the audience supply.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the film, a perky and brainless little night out. But upon post-theater reflection, we feel the aftertaste of its shallowness. Despite some stinging moments of truth (and twinges of recognition about how the romantic gambit works in the real world), the movie unfolds with the comforting progression of TV dramedy. It will play well on airplanes.

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