Someone should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about false advertising for this film. The trailer and the ads indicate that it is a romantic comedy. But it is, in fact, neither romantic nor a comedy; it’s more like an episode of Dr. Phil. Of course the trailer and the ads also indicate that it is enjoyable, and that, too, turns out not to be true, but if the FTC filed complaints every time that happened it would need more employees than the Defense Department.
The title says it all. Before the credits, we meet Brooke (Jennifer Anniston) and Gary (Vince Vaughn, who wrote the original story and produced the film) as they meet each other at a Cubs game. The next thing we see are those essential if overly familiar incidica of movie love: pictures showing our lovebirds making funny faces in a picture-taking booth, feeding each other, and decorating their new condo.
But then Gary and Brooke have their families over for dinner and get into a dispute about cleaning up. Brooke takes a stand and breaks up with Gary, hoping to make him realize how much he cares about her. But Gary, either because he takes her at her word or because his feelings are hurt, does not respond. So she raises the ante, trying to make him jealous, and he raises the ante, trying to prove he doesn’t care.
So, the whole movie is a game of one-upsmanship, as each one tries to make the other more miserable. It gets increasingly ugly and painful. Then it ends.
What is so disconcerting about all of this is that the performers seem to think they’re in a comedy and their performances have a comedy, even a sit-comedy rhythm. Anniston can be a fine dramatic actress (see the underrated The Object of My Affection) and has some of the best comic timing aound. Vaughn’s oddball ticcy rhythms, like Michael Keaton’s, work surprisingly well to convey either vulnerability or menace, sometimes both (see his underrated Clay Pigeons). But both of them are off here, as though they are lost in a script that does not match the tempo of its characters or story. The situations that are supposed to be funny are so mean-spirited and juvenile that they come across as creepy and nasty. We never believe they were a couple or that they should be a couple. they have nothing in common, no affection, no tenderness, no connection, no enjoyment of each other. They just get annoying; if we cared more, we would ask why they couldn’t just talk to each other instead of resorting to power games and indirection. But we don’t, so all we want is for them to shut up. And it seems to suggest that the problem was all Gary’s fault. Brooke talks about all she did and how under-appreciated she felt. Gary never suggests that she should have tried to find out if what she did was what he wanted and needed; he didn’t appreciate it because — he didn’t appreciate it.
The only way this story could possibly work is if it was set in a high school. We can forgive teenagers — and identify with them — for being so immature and clumsy. But having people in their 30’s say things like “Now I have him where I want him” and “Why didn’t you ever tell me?” induces not sympathy, not identification, just impatience and misery.
We keep hoping for more from the exceptional supporting cast, including Judy Davis as Brooke’s domineering boss, Ann-Margret as her mother, John Michael Higgins as her a capella-loving brother, and Jason Bateman and Jon Favreau as friends. Whenever the camera turns back to Gary and Brooke again, we sigh in resignation.
As for the ending, all I can say that at the screening I attended it literally provoked gasps of disappointment. Forget Dr. Phil; what Brooke and Gary need is a script doctor.
Parents should know that this film has some very raunchy material for a PG-13 (including a “Telly Savalas” bikini wax and two hooker jokes in the first ten minutes); as usual, the MPAA takes this material far less seriously when it is in a comedy than if it occured in a drama. There is some strong language (one f-word) and some crude language. Characters drink and smoke and there are sexual references and some nudity (bare male and female tushes, strip poker) and some implied nudity. Overall, the movie concerns some mean, dysfunctional, and petty behavior and it includes some tense and unhappy interactions.
Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Brooke and Gary to speak directly to each other about their feelings and concerns. What did they learn?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The War of the Roses, Ruthless People, and another movie set in Chicago, About Last Night. They might enjoy some of the classic comedies about battling couples who find each other again like The Awful Truth and Move Over Darling.