Response Paper: “The Break-Up” as a “Radical Romance”
“The Break-up” starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn centers around a
dysfunctional live in couple that spends the entire movie splitting apart. Forced to live in the
same apartment while their relationship dissolves, the uncomfortable situation constitutes
immense humor and sadness, as each individual wittingly tries to convince the other to move
out. Eventually tiring of the on going emotional games, the couple finally go on with life and
after being apart for a year, have a chance meeting on the streets of New York. This romantic
comedy shatters all the preconceived notions of what a love story should ultimately encompass,
which in turn makes it radical. McDonald’s Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre,
thoroughly discusses the ideology behind this new romantic comedy, now called a “radical
Tamar Jeffers McDonald defines a romantic comedy as “a film which has as its central
narrative motor a quest for love, which portrays this quest in a light-hearted way and
almost always to a successful conclusion” (McDonald 9). The blueprint of a romantic comedy
consists of a man and woman meeting, falling in love, breaking up and getting back together at
the end. “The Break-up” is radical in the sense that entire movie is about a couple separating.
There is no happiness in the beginning, middle or end. The audience also never gets to see the
how the couple got together or how life was before they became a couple. The idea of the film
taking place in the ending stages of the relationship ignites a very abstract perspective of what
the relationship consists of. Also the couple is never on a quest for love throughout the movie.
The film lacks the typical love-stricken woman and the womanizer man, making it radical in
a stereotypical sense.
The film, “The Break-up” is also radical in the fact that it doesn’t revolve entirely around
the relationship of the man and woman, but focuses on each individual’s role and niche in life.
The film is “interested in setting up the conventions of this genre rather than upholding them”
(McDonald 62-63) which in turn makes the metaphor or the journey through the relationship
more important than the actual relationship. For example, Jennifer Aniston gave up her career to
be in the relationship with Vince Vaughn, the film focuses on how she wanted her life to be
rather than what it has actually become. The idea that the woman’s main priority isn’t getting or
keeping a man, but being successful in another way is radical in its own right. The characters of
the film are also radical in the sense that the gender rolls are reversed. Traditionally, the man is
wealthy and focused on a career when he meets an average, poor woman who alters his
perspective. In “The Break-up”, the woman is the primary bread winner who contributes to most
of the household expenses.
The idea of a film being “radical” not only consists of it breaking all the rules of a
traditional romance, but also bring something new and fresh to the artistry of film. The radical
romance “is often willing to abandon the emphasis on making sure the couple ends up together,
regardless of likelihood…” (McDonald 59). At the end of the movie, the couple actually
separates and after being apart for about a year they run into each other say hello and continue on
with their lives. They both are successful, single, and happy with the way their lives are going
although they have been apart. Traditionally, the couple would get back together after some
realization of how much they meant to each other, yet this movie presents a different outcome.
The conclusion of this movie presents itself to be more realistic while leaving the what happens
after the brief encounter rather ambiguous.
Although “The Break-up” was outside of the norm for romantic comedies, there were a
few similarities to other genres. According to McDonald, “radical romance comedies are aware
of film history and genre conventions, and are frequently happy to jettison many of the elements
of earlier forms” (McDonald 70). The idea that a radical romantic comedy follows certain rules
of traditional genres speaks volumes for how radical the comedy truly seems. “The Break-up”
ends openly, “reminiscent of the influential moments of Francois Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents
Coups 1959…” (McDonald 70). The act of leaving the ending unclear is a radical movement
because it doest specify if the couple get back together or not.
Tamar Jeffers McDonald’s Romantic Comedy: Boy Meet Girl Meets Genre introduces
and explains every aspect of the radical romances. The idea of beginning the movie at the end of
the situation, nontraditional characters, and an uncertain ending makes the plot more realistic and
relatable. “The Break-up” fits into every feature of a new romance, yet still hold the values and
conventions of previous works.
McDonald, Tamar Jeffers. Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre. London: Wallflower
Press, 2007. Printip H