I really wasn’t expecting to like Heartbreaker so much. Which isn’t to say that I don’t go into movies with an open mind. I really do, honestly. (I’ve been hurt before, I won’t lie. I took my Dad to see Street Fighter back in 1994, convinced it couldn’t be that bad, and I don’t think he’s ever recovered. Although it does mean that every movie since has been pretty good in comparison.He loved Eraser.)
But the press notes for Heartbreaker, describing it as a film worthy of entering the romcom hall of fame and filled with “breath-taking romance”, filled me with zero confidence. Especially after watching Failure To Launch the other week.
The term ‘romcom’ is as much a warning sign as it is a genre label these days, so when a French film with Egg from This Life in it makes such lofty claims, it’s difficult not to feel slightly apprehensive.
Sometimes, however, it’s nice to be proved wrong. Heartbreaker does just that from the off, turning my preconceptions on their head and making me laugh more times over its 100 minutes than I’ve ever laughed during a film that finishes with a couple running towards each other and embracing over the closing credits. Plus, any film that has me wanting to watch Dirty Dancing all the way through must be doing something special.
Heartbreaker weaves Swayze’s dancing shoes deftly into its story, but still emerges edgy and funny, refreshingly free of sugary sentiment for a good three quarters of its running time. And here’s the poster-baiting bit:: it’s the most enjoyably acerbic romcom since Groundhog Day, an anti-Hitch that does the brave thing and casts a leading man so unbecoming a romantic hero that, when he does assume that mantle, it’s all the more satisfying. (Looking back, that second bit might not work on the poster, and it’s probably too late now for the first bit, but it was worth a shot. Had I added “rip-roaring” in there somewhere, I’m sure it would have been a shoo-in.)
Perhaps best known for his violent turn in 2005’s The Beat My Heart Skipped, Romain Duris wouldn’t have been many people’s first choice for headlining a romantic comedy. He’s like a wiry Sacha Baron Cohen with a less welcoming smile. Therein lies much of Heartbreaker‘s success, and the biggest clue as to its raison d’etre.
There’s no reinvention of the genre here, just a real desire on the part of director Pascal Chaumeil and his screenwriters to have a huge amount of fun within it. They start with a simple conceit: Duris earns his livelihood by breaking up couples at the behest of a concerned family member, only to fall in love with his latest target, Vanessa Paradis’ Dirty Dancing loving Juliette, but they don’t leave it at that. They take the time to develop the supporting players and background pieces, avoiding that Hollywood trap of lazy plotting and overdone quirks that undermine so many genre efforts.
Duris and Paradis are terrific front players, and the film offers them plenty of set pieces to display their comic timing and adorable innocence, respectively. He engineers a fake carjacking one minute, and elaborate sob story the next, his bullish determination meeting her doe-eyed naivety head on and producing a nice back-and-forth.
Yet, they’re equally matched by Julie Ferrier as Duris’ sister and ruthlessly efficient partner in crime, and Francois Damiens as her bumbling husband. he behind-the-scenes members of Duris’ crew, they serve the same function as the Tom Arnold/Grant Heslov double act in True Lies, only with better material and an even more winning rapport.
It adds a local mobster and his hulking henchman seamlessly into things, a palpable sense of violence played alternately for real and for laughs and which works both ways. It trips up a little with Egg, giving Andrew Lincoln nothing but a horribly stiff English fiancé to sleepwalk his way through. He comes off no better than Kevin McKidd did in Made Of Honour, a Brit made to look dull just because he’s nice.
That’s a small price to pay for how good the rest of Heartbreaker is, though. Even when it does the formulaic romcom thing at the end, it does it better than most Hollywood films could ever hope to. By then, it’s earned the right to go slushy, and it’s hard to begrudge it that little dip into more mainstream waters. Especially when it leaves us with Ferrier and Damiens’ delightful double act as the credits roll.