Saturday, December 30, 2006

Review: The Break Up

My friend Besty and I were possibly the only people to refer to The Break Up as the new Peyton Reed movie. Ever since we watched Bring It On in a mostly empty cinema in the middle of the day, we have been big fans (don't ask about the opening cheer unless you really want to know).

The great thing about Peyton Reed is that his movies have quite a mainstream sensibility, but with a different (and most importantly feminist) content. Betsy and I cracked up listening to his DVD commentary on Bring it On when he talked about the movie's punk rock sensibility (punk cheerleaders!), but we knew what he meant. The ads made The Break Up look like an extended episode of friends (boys are like this, and girls are like this - isn't that hilarious), but (and I should have had faith in Peyton Reed) instead it looked at the reality behind some of those ideas, and what they mean for the people involved.

It's weird that we finally got around to watching the break-up tonight, just after I'd written about housework. Because the Break-up is a movie about the dishes. Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) and Gary (Vince Vaughn) have been together for two years and they're holding a dinner party. When Brooke gets home from work she tidies up the whole place, does all the cooking (for the meal she's shopped and planned for), sets the table, and so on. When Gary gets home he turns on the TV and watches the game, despite the fact that she's still cooking dinner, and he's not changed. Then after the dinner party he sits down and plays Playstation, and when she asks him to help her do the dishes he talks about how he needs to unwind (this is the fight where they break up).

More than anything else I found the movie terribly, terribly sad. Right throughout the movie Brooke, keeps trying to get him back, she's doing more, and working harder in the hope that'll make him notice the work she already does (which appears to be about 90% of the work in the relationship). There's a scene near the end where she lists all the things she does for him, and doesn't ask him to reciprocate, doesn't ask for equality, just asks that he recognise what she's doing.* When he finally began to understand what was upsetting her so much, it was too late, she felt entirely used up, and couldn't keep trying any more.

It all felt so familiar. They're not even particularly my issues, but I've listened, and I've given advice, and in the end there's nothing I can do.

There were other bits I really like; the female relationships were very real and reminded me of the limits of solidarity without analysis. It was obvious, throughout the movie, that other women backed up Brooke because she was a woman. But the advice they gave was all slightly ridiculous and useless, and showed that her friends were also mired in this pit where it was impossible to relate to men on anything approaching equal footing, so all they could offer Brooke were suggestions on how to get around.

What I really do wonder is how much of this was intentional. I'm fairly certain that Peyton Reed brought out the feminist aspects of the movie on purpose. But on the DVD commentary Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston were implying that they thought this was a movie about two equally flawed people. I imagine if you're used to being blind to power dynamics it might look like two equally flawed people. But there was a power imbalance in that relationship, whether it was intended by the creators or not.

It passes the Mo Movie Measure - but in quite a neat way - it's only after that she's decided that she has no more energy to give him that she is shown speaking to another woman about anything but Gary.

As a movie it definately worked for me, anything that felt that real definately would. There were also some absolutely hilarious moments (and some others that didn't really work for me, but I don't find Vince Vaughn particularly funny). I really do recomend you watch it, I'd like to know what other people thought.

* I imagine that it'd actually be impossible to recognise that you were in a relationship where the other person was doing the vast majority of the work. It's much easier to be blind, than to realise that you're a parasite (or to do your share).


  1. I often think housework is the easy measure of whether a relationship is equal - you can make up a list of chores and divide them, but who takes responsibility for the hard calls? Who is the person who always has to take their wallet, organise the holiday, create social occasions, do the difficult parenting? That counts too.

    Hmmm, might have to get this filum out, thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Anonymous10:11 pm

    Thanks for the recommendation of Bring It On, Maia; I was turned off by the promotion it got when it was released, but I went and got it today and... you're right.