The strength of The Break-Up is its willingness to break the rules of romantic comedies, if that‚s even what it is.

Just for starters, there is a scene that refuses to turn into the Door Scene. You know the Door Scene ˆ the moment when the feuding guy and gal are on opposite sides of the same door, both wanting to open it but neither working up the courage. It‚s a scene that has been in every romantic comedy since Thomas Edison put a Fuller brush salesman and a suffragette on opposite sides of a door in his romantic comedy, Sleepless in Menlo Park. But, just when you think The Break-Up is about to go there, it goes elsewhere.

The Break-Up teases us for a while, so we think it‚s a movie we‚re familiar with. Vince Vaughn plays the same I-learned-all-my-moves-from-Sinatra smoothie he played in Wedding Crashers and Swingers. And Jennifer Aniston ˆ who, of course, knows from break-ups ˆ isn‚t far from the joyless-but-witty gal she‚s been playing since Rachel.

They‚re a couple, but the best years of their relationship ˆ the game nights, the camp-outs, the sponge-painting of the living room ˆ are over before the credits end. As the movie proper begins, they‚ve settled into a festival of snappishness, and the break-up of the title is right around the corner, with the twist being that they continue to live together in a hostile variation on „The Odd Couple.‰

The movie delivers laughs; Vaughn‚s witty throwaways are money, and the zesty supporting cast ˆ Judy Davis, Jon Favreau and John Michael Higgins, in particular ˆ has fun. But fun isn‚t the only agenda.

The Break-Up exaggerates its characters ˆ she‚s a prima donna, he‚s a lout ˆ so we can say, „Well at least my husband/wife/other isn‚t that bad.‰ But then it gradually reins in their behavior, so it‚s more real and easier to relate to. Eventually, you‚re forced to question whether this is the rare romantic comedy that knows that its leads were not meant for each other.

Most of the characters in The Break-Up aren‚t what we first perceived them to be, a flip-floppy idea introduced when Vaughn‚s character describes his aggressive pick-up style: „A lot of times, people go, ŒIt‚s crazy.‚ Then they go, ŒOh, it‚s genius.‚

The supporting characters‚ hidden traits are revealed in intriguing ways, but the leads are so muddled that, by the time the movie wishy-washes up to the ending, we‚re no longer sure who they are. Even so, the movie‚s crazy insistence on going its own way shows a flash of genius.

Grade: A-