The job was to rewrite rom com The Break Up, keep all the good bits but this time, not alienate the female audience.
The premise of The Break Up as a rom-com concept is undeniably fantastic when compared with run of the mill rom-coms. Two people love each other and the comedy is that they break up over nothing.
Gary Grobowski, played by Vince Vaughn and Brooke Meyers played by Jennifer Aniston meet at a game. Gary woos attractive Brooke by just talking until she has no choice but to go on a date. Gary’s flaw is, he is a bit overbearing but his funny go-getting attitude and charming approach means we instantly like him when we meet him. Gary’s funny charming manner is confirmed in his job as a tour guide.
The problem is after meeting funny charming Gary, he suddenly becomes a passive cruel unattractive couch potato. Gary’s cruelty knows no bounds, he is homophobic, he is dirty and messy, unhelpful, uncaring and unsupportive of Brooke and others. Worst of all, he is not even funny anymore. Basically the character who we met at the beginning no longer exists and develops a variety of inconsistent traits which are rolled out depending on who he talks to in the film. Brooke breaks up with Gary who becomes even more intolerably cruel with Brooke but she is desperate to get back with him. This is despite the fact that Gary has no intention of changing and has totally lost the sense of humour that caused them to get together. The break up continues amidst animosity and miscommunication. The couple must share the condo before it sells and their break-up can be concluded.
The problem for a female viewer is she cannot understand why Brooke wants to get back with cruel unattractive Gary. A good comparison with The Break Up Gary character is Melvin Udall played by Jack Nicholson in the film As Good As It Gets released in 1997. We the viewers watch and learn that the main character Melvin is not a hateful racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, sexist and misogynistic dog hater. Melvin does not mean to be cruel and over time, we the viewers see Melvin overcome this debilitating flaw and change through the female character. While the waitress Carol Connelly played by Helen Hunt may be a TV trope, a young poor single mother wooed by a rich old cruel man, she is not a pushover.
The film Break Up was released in the year 2006 not the 1950s. The period in which such female TV tropes and stereotypes are rolled out. The problem for the scriptwriters of The Break Up is that they alienate the female audience.
The film had numerous supporting characters that added to the plot and gave some undeniably funny moments: Brooke’s brother Richard Meyers played by John Michael Higgins challenging Gary’s homophobia; Brooke’s boss and gallery owner Marilyn Dean played by Judy Davis offering a beleaguered Brooke unexpected relationship tips; Gary’s best friend and confidante, barman Johnny Ostrofski played by Jon Favreau entertaining us despite being forced to deliver bad exposition and Gary’s colleague Sandra who we see in only two scenes. Sandra’s expressions tell us of her work relationship with Gary and she manages to make driving a bus and boat funny.
But overall, the film had too many characters that were not needed and just diluted the premise. The film needed to cull characters and give viewers time to hang out with funny supporting characters that were essential to integrating the plot and bringing about much needed changes in the lead characters. The characters who were not needed included: Brooke’s best friend and confidante, married with two children, Addie Jones played by the talented Joey Lauren Adams. Addie did not question Brooke’s love for cruel and inconsiderate Gary. Addie’s unsupportive and low-key criticism made their scenes the opposite of funny. Gary’s family and Brooke’s parents were too one-dimensional and they were simply not needed.
The worst part of the film was a wholly redundant scene which actually made me hate the male character irreparably. Brooke invites Gary to a concert for a band he likes two days before they sell their condo. This is a band he likes and she asks him very nicely. Gary does not turn up. Still in as a viewer? I wasn’t. The question for me, is why would the writers write an inconsistent character that is that unnecessarily cruel?
After seeing Brooke cry, suddenly Gary becomes a nice person and so the inconsistencies of Gary’s character continue. Gary’s best barman friend has to tell confused viewers in exposition that Gary always just gets his own way but Brooke is the first girl he has ever been in love with. Really and even as I write this, I have to ask, does the character of Gary and the plot make sense?
Still it is watching these moments that give me enlightenment as a writer. I learned rom coms may be light and funny although Groundhog Day and There’s Something about Mary show such films can also be rich in mythic quality. But lead characters must be engaging in the charming Cary Grant way or at least be people we wish to hang out with or learn about as we have to spend over an hour in their company. The scriptwriter must help us find ways to understand or forgive their frailties. This cannot and must never happen in exposition.
I am certain The Break Up would have had an amazing box office given the performances if the character of Gary could have been revised to make sense.
So here comes the rewrite
Gary the funny but selfish philanderer has met the girl of his dreams and that is his problem, he is on a trajectory which aims to use his fast funny talking to help their relationship go all the way but Brooke is a determined career girl.
Brooke’s grand plans involve trying to convince boss Marilyn Dean played by Judy Davis to change the gallery ethos and re-balance mythic male phallic art with some female presence so they can woo the male crowd. Brooke worships high priestess Marilyn but believes she must make use of the mythic female fertility symbols sitting in Marilyn’s office. Amongst other things, Brooke keeps bringing home scary mythic female art and fertility artefacts which terrify Gary and his mates. Brooke accuses Gary of being uncultured because she believes them to be aphrodisiacs. Both of the issues cause a direct conflict with Gary who turns to barman friend Johnny Ostrofski played by Jon Favreau for help. The couple still break up but this time, it is Gary who breaks up with Brooke after taking advice from Johnny that he has become too much of a pushover to be attractive. Brooke is unconvinced but plays along with it to teach Gary a lesson until she can conclude her work ambitions. In line with the original, Brooke dates attractive men to make Gary jealous. But in the rewrite, she asks her brother Richard Meyers played by John Michael Higgins to find a string of gay men from his all-male singing group to be her date. Gary tries to understand Brooke by befriending the men. The problem is some of the gay men like Gary and other’s just question Gary as a choice. One of her dates provokes Brooke so much that she is forced to defend Gary as a partner choice. Brooke realises she loves Gary and must find a way to make him understand and Gary learns he must use his fast-talking skills to help Brooke to pursue all her worldly ambitions if they are to make it as a couple. Gary stays a consistent fast talking, charming and funny guy and Brooke is not a pushover but a sassy smart attractive girl with some self-respect. Everyone wins. One final note, I’d keep the dinner scene but I would only invite Marilyn Dean, Brooke’s brother, barman friend and Gary’s work colleague Sandra. All of them have their own views and versions of the couple which adds to the madness.