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Jennifer vs Vince June 9, 2006

Posted by themoviecenter in Uncategorized.
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June 07, 2006

There are very few certainties in Hollywood. A fortnight ago, however, at least one thing was for sure: The Break-Up, the latest in a series of Hollywood romantic comedies made by real-life Hollywood couples (others including the Affleck/Lopez abomination Gigli, and the Madonna/Ritchie disaster Swept Away), was going to bomb so hard that there would be a mushroom cloud over Los Angeles.
Many predicted that The Break-Up would be the final humiliation for Jennifer Aniston — the 37-year-old former Friends star (and former Mrs Brad Pitt) — who had the lead female role in the film, opposite her new boyfriend Vince Vaughn.

If The Break-Up failed at the box office, they said, it would be her fourth project in a row to sink — following Derailed, Rumour Has It and Friends with Money. Little reassurance was provided by Hollywood’s early-warning “tracking” system, which measures the public’s awareness of forthcoming films through polling: most respondents seemed indifferent. By last month some pundits began to come out and say it: the Friends star was finished. Never again would she be able to charge the $5 million she was reportedly paid for Along Came Polly in 2004, in which she starred with Ben Stiller.

“With only 12 days to go before opening, that means the game is pretty much over,” sniffed Jeffrey Wells, on his widely read blog Hollywood Elsewhere. “Aniston is probably one or two steps away from competing with Helen Hunt for HBO roles.”

Then something extraordinary happened.

When The Break-Up opened last weekend, everyone went to see it. In total, the movie took a remarkable $38.2 million at more than 3,000 cinemas across the US, making it the third most lucrative romantic comedy debut – behind only Will Smith’s Hitch ($43.1 million) and 50 First Dates ($39.3 million). It was as if Team Aniston had taken on Germany and won the World Cup. The Break-Up will arrive in British cinemas on July 21.

So what happened? Well, it certainly was not the critics. Roger Ebert, columnist of the Chicago Sun-Times, whose “thumbs-up” recommendation is a meaningful (yet not always reliable) mark of approval, had this to say: “Watching the movie is like being on a double-date from hell . . . dreary and sad.” As for A. O. Scott in the The New York Times, he described the film as “dull and trivial . . . . mediocre”.

All of which suggests one of two things: that the critics were needlessly harsh, or that audiences were so caught up in Aniston’s public life (in a post-Pitt interview with Vanity Fair, she had to keep taking sob-breaks) that they felt compelled to see the film. The latter explanation seems obvious, but has been disproved by other tabloid-fuelled movies that nosedived: Gigli made less than $4 million during its opening weekend in 2003, at the height of “Bennifer” mania.

The film’s success also confirms the old Hollywood approach to micromanaging “office romances”. For The Break-Up, a deftly orchestrated campaign (in stark contrast to Pitt’s pan-African honeymoon) culminated in a recent Aniston and Vaughn cover in Entertainment Weekly, boasting the first studio pictures of the couple happily posing together.

Having seen The Break-Up for myself — at a late morning screening with two others in the cinema, both of whom guffawed throughout — I suspect that many critics simply enjoyed opening fire on a slow-moving target. And yet it is still a disappointment.

I can understand how the The Break-Up sounded good when pitched to Universal Pictures as a counter-intuitive romantic comedy — all wit and no heart. It’s the kind of thing Katharine Hepburn would once have loved. Unfortunately for all of us, Aniston is no Hepburn. And The Break-Up no Philadelphia Story.

Vaughn plays Gary, a quick-minded but stubborn Chicago tour bus operator who woos the unbearably cuddly/sexy Brooke (Aniston) at a sports game. They fall in love, buy an apartment together, and then . . . well, they start to bicker. What follows is neither comedy nor drama, nor, to be honest, entertainment.

Vaughn has none of his usual warmth — and without it Gary’s moan about not havinga pool table in the dining room comes off as depressing, not funny. Brooke is initially more sympathetic — their big tiff comes after Gary refuses to prepare the table for a dinner party, or help wash up afterwards — but her refusal to ditch him completely becomes implausible, especially when she turns down a dinner date with a wealthy and dapper art collector.

I suspect that the writers of The Break-Up had The Office in mind when developing some of the more toe-curling scenes. Someone got nervous, however, and tried to tick the boxes next to at least a few of the conventions of the romantic comedy genre. This means that we get a predictably wacky ensemble of extras, including a gay a-cappella singing brother (his dinner-table rendition of the 1980s rock radio hit Owner of a Lonely Heart should be a highlight, but isn’t) and an art gallery owner who, in an unforgivable Hollywood cliché, is inspired by the Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

The best of the bunch (still a cliché, mind you) is a shameless estate agent who offers to sell Brooke and Gary’s apartment.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center

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