Ah, the romantic comedy. Is there any genre more undone by the generic machinations of heartless hacks and unfunny “stars” in lead roles? The ingredients should be simple… two people fall for each other and face obstacles on the way to hopefully being together. Whether they get there or not is irrelevant. Make the romance heartfelt and believable and the laughs genuine and frequent and you’ll have a solid romantic comedy. Notting Hill, When Harry Met Sally, My Best Friend’s Wedding… when it works they’re more than just great examples of the genre. They’re great movies period.
In a couple there are three types of women. The happy ones, the unhappy ones who cope, and the unhappy ones who do not admit it. That last category is my stock in trade. My name is Alex Lippi. I am a professional couple breaker.”
Alex Lippi (Romain Duris) works with his sister and brother-in-law in a very particular and unique business. People pay him to seduce their daughter, sister, or friend to the point where she breaks up with her current beau. He doesn’t sleep with them, but he brings them to the point where they realize they’re not ready to settle with their current boyfriend and then he bows out like a gentleman. The “work” has almost become too easy for him when he’s hired to stop Juliette’s (Vanessa Paradis) impending marriage to her all around nice guy fiancé, Jonathan (Andrew Lincoln). It’s ten days before the wedding and Alex welcomes the job… in part because he believes himself infallible but also because he needs the money to pay off a particularly insistent loan shark. But what happens when he finds himself actually falling for his target?
I think it’s safe to say we all know what happens.
But Heartbreaker isn’t attempting to redefine the genre. Instead it simply embraces it, tosses out the parts that have grown stale, and focuses on what really matters. And that’s the humanity of it all. The two leads are charismatic and engaging, and thanks to some atypical dental arrangements neither Duris nor Paradis come across as the typically flawless human beings seen in most rom-coms. Their characters are equally enjoyable, and the film they inhabit is emotionally satisfying and breezy entertainment.
Duris is probably best known to US audiences as the morally conflicted pianist (putting it mildly) in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, but he takes on an entirely new persona here. Alex is a confident but emotionally restricted man who bails when things get too close to home, and Duris balances both halves in convincing form. He’s charming when he wants to be, but there remains an air of uncertainty about him most evident in his smile. The film even takes advantage of the fact by referring to his unavoidable “jerkface.” Paradis is also good as she moves from appearing distant and spoiled to someone more uncertain of her predicament, and there’s no denying that her gap-toothed grin enhances her beauty instead of detracting from it.
The supporting cast and characters a re a mixed bag of successes and the film’s only real missteps. Lincoln (The Walking Dead) has very little to do here as the “baxter” role requires little more than to appear non-threatening. Jonathan is kind, wealthy, and guilty of being bland, and while the film deserves credit for not making him a stock bad guy/romantic foil they should have done more than simply make him boring. Alex’s partners in crime however have and are an utter blast as they assist his schemes via disguises, tech support, and sketchy surveillance. Melanie (Julie Ferrier) and Marc (Francois Damiens) are the film’s odd but ideal couple in love, and their exchanges back and forth are both comedic and romantic. Their bids for a laugh do cross a line though when Marc starts knocking people out with blows to the head…
Director Pascal Chaumeil’s first feature could easily have gone the route of a Hitch or even worse, My Best Friend’s Girl, but he avoids the varied pitfalls of both with an amiable cast, a fresh screenplay, and a fair amount of palpable energy. The film moves at a steady pace carrying the viewer from scene to scene with a smile on their face, and it even has time for a mini-action scene, brief nudity, and some surprisingly sweet Dirty Dancing shenanigans. If you see only one romantic comedy this year, see Going the Distance. (Seriously, the damn thing will surprise you.) But if you see one more, make it Heartbreaker.
The Upside: Love story allowed to play out naturally; funny and sweet in almost equal measure; Duris and Paradis both engage the viewer without succumbing to cliché; energetic soundtrack
The Downside: A couple comedic bits go over the top; Lincoln isn’t given much to do