The Break-Up is a romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor particularly funny. To some degree, this is intentional, since the story concerns the end of a relationship rather than the beginning of one; indeed, the filmmakers have called it an "anti-romantic comedy." But even given that premise, this movie represents one huge wasted opportunity.
Take the central relationship. Vince Vaughn is a wisecracking guy's guy and Jennifer Aniston may well be America's favorite girl next door until she is well past retirement age, so the pairing of these two actors could have resulted in that rare chick flick that appeals to male moviegoers as much as the female ones. But surprisingly, the two barely have any chemistry (no matter what the tabloids might say about their offscreen exploits), and the film never bothers to show us why their characters got together in the first place.
Granted, the film does show us how they got together, sort of, as Gary Grobowski (Vaughn) spots Brooke Meyers (Aniston) from a distance at a baseball game and begins to woo her with his rat-a-tat, motor-mouthed charm. Brooke happens to be with a man, and the intensity with which Gary pursues her might have some women crying "Stalker!"—but for some reason, Brooke loses the other guy and heads off with Gary instead. Then the film fast-forwards to the present day. Gary and Brooke co-own a condo; and, after a mildly awkward dinner attended by both their families, a small disagreement over cleaning up the dishes turns into a big shouting match, and suddenly, just like that, they break up.
But the film never shows us why they got together—that is, it never shows us what it was about the personalities of these two people that made them seem like a worthy match in the first place—and so, when Gary and Brooke break up, we have no idea how to respond. Was their relationship a mistake, in which case we should be glad to see them go their separate ways? Or should we be mourning the end of something good? And come to that, couples rarely break up over a single bad day; there are usually many other straws on the camel's back before that last one breaks it, and because the film does not give us that broader context, we cannot help but think that Gary and Brooke are over-reacting.
At any rate, without some sort of back-story to explain their present actions, both Gary and Brooke come off looking rather petulant and unlikable—and that would be fine, if The Break-Up were a black comedy about nasty people doing nasty things to each other, like The War of the Roses. But no, this movie doesn't have the guts to go that far. Yes, Gary and Brooke—who both insist on staying in the condo, she in the bedroom and he on the couch in the living room—try increasingly desperate measures to drive each other crazy or to make the other person jealous. But the small acts of revenge are never all that vicious, and the movie always comes back to the emotional pain that the characters have caused each other. The movie, in a nutshell, doesn't know whether it wants to laugh or cry.