— by Larry Carroll, with additional reporting by Jeff Cornell
Ever since Adam and Eve offered one another their conflicting opinions on fresh fruit, men and women have attempted to bridge the communication gap. A few millennia later, Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston are giving it a shot.
" 'Compromise' sounds like such a compromising word," laughed Aniston, one half of the above-the-title bickering pair in "The Break-Up," a new comedy counter-programming the action blockbusters at the multiplex this week. "Collaboration, I think, would be a better way — talking about it, saying what you need, saying what you want so it's not a threat to the other person."
"Men and women speak different languages," Vaughn shrugged. "You can be in a relationship and have a conversation, and you still don't know quite what girls are saying. You could say, 'I'm going to go out with my friends,' and she could say OK. But sometimes that means it's not OK."
"A lot of people find [fighting] very relatable," the actor added, noting that in a recent screening audience members responded with cheers as their onscreen alter egos delivered powerful blows on their gender's behalf. "A lot of women are applauding and cheering for Jen when she calls me names or stands up for herself when we get in a big fight. And guys are relating to [me] when I want to watch the game. What's the big deal? I don't want to do the dishes!"
In the flick, Aniston's Brooke and Vaughn's Gary clash over a series of stupid arguments. Within hours, the loving couple have retreated to neutral corners of their Chicago apartment, both determined to keep the plush pad from falling into the other's diabolical clutches.
"Whenever I got scripts for romantic comedies they always had some sort of bizarre subplot to them. 'You must marry the girl, you will not inherit the family fortune and the mean guy that works for me will take over the company,' or 'I have to write an article for a paper, but oops! I really did fall in love with the girl,' " laughed Vaughn, who came up with the idea for an "anti-romantic comedy" in 2002 and allowed writers Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender to move into his house so the three could work out the script. "I always thought relationships are odd enough as they are."
Once Gary and Brooke are entrenched, they engage in another time-honored activity: bitching to friends. With that in mind, Aniston and Vaughn's buddies (in both the real and imaginary worlds) offered their own friendly peace-keeping advice.
"Vince wants to play a video game or watch a ballgame after he comes home from working a long day," said Jon Favreau, who shot "Swingers" alongside Vaughn more than a decade ago, and returns here as his buddy Johnny O. "I think a lot of guys can relate to that. She's upset because she came home after working a full day at work and she's washing the dishes and straightening up the house, and he's not offering any help. And the families are coming over."
"And maybe he invited the families; maybe it was his idea," added Joey Lauren Adams, the "Mallrats" star who has been friends with Vaughn and Favreau since their pre-"Swingers" days. "If the guy invites his family over for dinner and makes you cook the whole dinner, and is just sitting there playing video games, that's a different thing than if it's just a night and you both get off work and he wants to relax. It's two different situations."
"[I've had women] get a little freaked out at the notion that I can sit in the house and play video games for so many hours," laughed Favreau, acknowledging Gary's "Grand Theft Auto" addiction in the movie.
"That's extreme," asserted Adams, sticking up for the women. "Be honest about how much you play."
"But once you get a new game and you get into that game, you want to finish that game — you're committed to it," insisted Peter Billingsley, the 35-year-old actor/producer (most famous for playing Ralphie in "A Christmas Story") who now produces and acts regularly with Vaughn and Favreau. "I don't think he's a bad dude for just wanting to play his games."
"But if you wake up at three in the morning and your boyfriend's at the end of the bed in some other world, and he's like, 'I can't go to bed yet; I've almost got the whole city under control!' That can get kind of strange," laughed Adams.
"Sure, for you it is," responded Favreau. "But for those poor people in the game ..."
"Those people in that city," grinned Billingsley, helping his friend, "they want it under control."
When men and women do go toe-to-toe, it's no different than a boxing match: both combatants will flaunt their strengths but, more brutally, they'll exploit the weaknesses of their opponents.
"I think the worst thing, I would have to say, is the information that you've given in the past that [he can] throw back as ammunition," sighed Aniston. "Those vulnerabilities turn into sucker punches."
"Use your leverage," Vaughn urged, noting that Gary employs his most important relationship weapon when he refuses to attend the ballet. "My character says it's kind of like a medieval techno-show with dudes flopping around in short pants."
"He is quick-witted, there's no question," laughed Aniston. "But I have an icy stare."
That stare is used to full effect when Gary makes his greatest mistake, bringing Brooke home only three lemons for her 12-lemon centerpiece. "That stuff is very universal, about not remembering to bring home 12 lemons and having the argument be about the lemons," Vaughn grinned. "But the argument is so much more than the lemons — that's just the vehicle to discuss stuff."
"If that's what she asked for," Adams said of the even dozen, "then that's what you get."
"So we just have to follow it to the letter?" barked Billingsley. "No questions asked?"
"Why would you assume she really only needed three? It's insulting! If she asked for 12 lemons, there's a reason she needed 12 lemons."
Replied Favreau: "She could have been exaggerating."
"She could have been over-lemoning," Billingsley added.
"What we need is 12," Adams said, holding her own. "Otherwise, she would've said 'Get me a bunch of lemons.' "
"Maybe lemons are expensive ..." Billingsley began.
Adams cut him off again. "It's about communication and listening," she insisted. "He wasn't listening."
Thousands of years later, it seems, men and women are still doing battle over fruit.