“Didn’t that movie come out last year?” a colleague asked me after I told her I was reviewing The Break-Up. You’d be forgiven for thinking so: Ever since Brad Pitt unceremoniously dumped her for Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston’s life has played like a continuous reel from a Sirk melodrama, with Jen a Jane Wyman for the In Touch Weekly era. As Brangelina globe-trotted on U.N. missions, stoic Aniston, the rags reported, found the love of a good man last summer in good-time Vince Vaughn, her carbed-out costar, on the set of The Break-Up.
The backstory is crucial to appreciating Peyton Reed’s romantic comedy, which, although occasionally relying on big-studio banalities (swish supporting characters, redundant soundtrack), is surprisingly adult—a tale of two grown-ups whose love has been eclipsed by long-simmering resentment. Cohabiting in a sprawling Chicago condo, pinched art-dealer Brooke (Aniston) and goofy bus-tour guide Gary (Vaughn) call it quits after a volatile Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus--type exchange following a dinner party. Neither wants to relinquish the prime real estate; each wants to torture the other.
Even with a spotty record (Bring It On is mean-girls manna; Down with Love a Doris Day disaster), Reed is still a solid woman’s director, and he impressively elicits ferocity from Aniston, never known for onscreen paroxysms. Could these welcome rage-spirals be sense memories from couples-counseling sessions with Brad? Vaughn, ever the frat-boy gentleman, never outshines his leading lady. The film’s final act and coda may astonish you. Meanwhile, the Jennicam still rolls. (Opens Fri; click here for venues.)—Melissa Anderson