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Thursday, June 15, 2006 11:35 pm

Breaking up

It’s easy and sometimes funny -- on the big screen

Breaking up is easy to do if you try hard enough. Just make a clean break and be done with it. Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston), the sparring couple in The Break-Up, can’t seem to take that logical step. Instead we see two emotional basket cases causing themselves unnecessary grief by trying to tear each other down. The Break-Up is more sophisticated than reviews have indicated. The warfare is completely grounded in reality, never veering off into ridiculous caricature, and it boasts a surprisingly detailed script for this genre. The breadth and depth of its multicharacter story is amazing, but nothing detracts from the potency of the two stars. The intensity of the bickering creates a glorious negative chemistry. Romance was a staple of screwball comedies of the 1930s, but The Awful Truth (1937) stands as the classic breakup movie of its time. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are the warring spouses who are bent on undermining each other’s remarriage plans. More importantly, custody of the dog is a major issue. Keeping the pets can more than make up for any other losses. Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966) features a different kind of animal. David Warner goes bonkers after his wife (Vanessa Redgrave) divorces him, and he shows up at her wedding dressed as a gorilla. Morgan is one of the best British comedies of the ’60s. Albert Brooks keeps it real, more or less, in his best movie, Modern Romance (1981). His routine is to announce his breakup plans to his girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold) in a restaurant. Only Brooks could find common ground between their relationship and the Vietnam War. She takes it in stride, because this is his normal behavior, but he spends the rest of the movie regretting his decision. A restaurant, however, was not a safe location for the breakup in The Heartbreak Kid (1972). Charles Grodin wrongly assumes that Jeannie Berlin won’t overreact in a public place when he dumps her on their honeymoon. Elaine May’s deceptively dark classic actually makes his despicable behavior understandable. The Farrelly brothers are working on a remake. Dirty Love (2005) comes close to living up to its awful reputation. Jenny McCarthy catches her boyfriend with another woman and fails in her numerous attempts to make him jealous. You’ll thank me for not describing the rude and crude humor. Let’s just say that McCarthy is one of the most fearless actresses in Hollywood, and Dirty Love proves that some movie breakups are more painful than the real thing.
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