Take Two

by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & The Break-Up & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & film about the death of a live-in relationship and the subsequent power struggle for a posh, co-owned Chicago condo, The Break-Up is either the least funny comedy ever made or the most accurate dramatic rendering of a contentious breakup. Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) and Gary (Vince Vaughan) are in a relationship that's at the breaking point. Neither of them want to split up, but they have perhaps the worst communication skills of any two people on the planet, so things go afoul. Once broken up, they're both too stubborn to concede victory and work on things. Instead, they scream and throw stuff and do everything they can to make the other person feel miserable -- and to hell with whatever mutual friends might get in the way. In that sense, it's a very realistic depiction of the last days of certain kinds of relationships.

So it's got that going for it, I guess, but it's been saturation-marketed like a comedy -- so it should be funny, right? Maybe, but it's not. I laughed a total of four times: twice at the absurdity of Jon Favreau's character, Johnny O, and twice in awe of the brilliant affectations of Vincent D'Onofrio (who is supposed, I think, to be mildly autistic). The timing is really bad, the edits are sloppy, characters talk over each other and the dialogue is so dire for so long that when a joke pops up, it barely registers before getting sucked into a vortex of Brooke and Gary's spite.

It's clear pretty quickly that bad break-ups, when portrayed honestly and unwaveringly, aren't funny. At all. The Break-Up fills banquet tables full of talented comedic actors, yet the scenes feel completely dead. There's no play, there's no escalation of tension, there's no punch line. There's only the tense exchange of glances and the low drone of discomfort.

Vaughan's now-patented impatient, self-centered, take-no-shit city-dweller schtick officially tips here from jerky to venomous, essentially taking the guy-you-love-to-hate moniker and stripping it of the "love-to." That's not to say he's bad; he's really pretty good, as is Aniston for the most part. Neither of them, though, are funny.

The Break-Up tries to be funny and realistic and only moderately succeeds at the latter. The pervasive anger and discomfort (and the film's open end) pushes the film toward a kind of naturalism. Naturalism, as we've learned from the predator-prey cinema verit & eacute; like National Geographic Presents, is rarely funny. You're supposed to see how awful these people are being to each other and identify with it, then laugh. It's a ballsy play, really, trying to turn a mirror on our ugliest moments and make us smile.

If you've never been in that situation, though, it's impossible to relate. If you have been in that situation, identifying with the characters doesn't create laughter. It creates, at best, unease. At worst, the feeling is something like oppressive dread and anxiety. In the words of the person I saw the film with, "I've lived through my own break-ups. Why would I want to watch one?"

I suppose any situation is game for comedic exploitation, but laughs come much harder in some situations than others. It's ironic: Audiences can laugh with irreverence at the horrors of Nazism (The Producers, The Great Dictator), but we're still unable or unwilling to laugh at something as human as the end of a relationship. But after hearing Vaughan and Aniston's arguments echo through a silent theater, it's obvious that's one thing the world isn't ready for. (Rated PG-13)