Saturday, November 6, 2010

Heartbreaker. (2010) Pascal Chaumeil

Equal parts Runaway Bride and a French romcomian Mission Impossible, Heartbreaker satisfies in ways the feel-good audience needs.

I'm not usually a big fan of the romcom. Other (obviously English speaking) reviews that I read before seeing Heartbreaker made comparisons to recent American films I hadn't even heard of. I don't know whether this is beneficial when reviewing Heartbreaker, but for what it's worth, I'm right there with the feel-good camp.

Romain Duris has had my respect since his commanding performances in both The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Paris, but seeing him in a setting like this brings more understanding to the depth of his abilities. In those films he was undeniably fine, but those serious roles were more simple -- simply serious roles that called for simple seriousness. In Heartbreaker we get to see a brand new Duris with an energized and flamboyant side that, to me, was unexpected, but fully rewarding. I had some great laughs at this little romcom adventure, and Duris was having the time of his life.

Although somewhat predictable, the story is fine for the genre: Duris plays Alex, who runs a business with his sister and her husband in which they're hired to break up relationships. Maybe a relative or an ex-lover, maybe even just a good friend will hire the team to intervene, to somehow get in the middle of a blossoming love affair and with whatever means necessary, bring that relationship down. In a montage at the beginning of the film the team goes first person, directly confronting the camera, explaining their rules and their goofy codes of conduct, like never take a job based on religion or race, and never sleep with anyone to close a deal. But codes aside, they're handsomely paid to crack into a couple's courtship using deceit and seduction to splinter it.

Of course, Alex is the seductive romantic, using his charming good looks and an act he's put together to win the heart of a female mark. He's found that at just the right moment a sad story from his made-up life and a bit of hilariously conjured up tears can win even the hardest of hearts. When a girl has fallen for him to the point of wanting to leave her other, he always stops short. He says he's "far away," that it's "too late" for him, but that it's never too late for her. If the seed of another is planted, so the thought goes, it's enough for her to still pick up and leave.

Obviously when the lovely Vanessa Paradis strolls in as Juliette, a mark for Alex but a girl he just can't figure, things change for Alex and he actually starts to notice someone. The lengths he goes to to get her attention, and her unresponsive nature, make the story as much of a hoot as when she actually begins to notice him back. The problem is that Alex, still in character, a made-up man in a made-up world, needs to now decide whether it's right to come out of hiding and betray the dad that paid him or stuff it away and finish the mission.

The film plays with the idea of the "mission", too, with his teammate sister and her husband working behind the scenes security, or creating roles of their own -- hostess or maintenance man, bartender or race car driver. We begin to see Heartbreaker as not just a puritan romcom, but a Heist film as well -- a comedic one in which things in the background are as laughable as Alex's fumbling. The team spirit going into the breakup and the endless possibilities of what goes wrong are as funny as watching Alex flounder between liking Juliette and sticking to his agreement to thwart her engagement.

Contacting dad and digging into her history is a huge aid to finally reaching her. When Alex discovers how much Juliette loves WHAM and Dirty Dancing, his new mission is memorizing lyrics and 80s soundtrack dance moves. "Wake Me Up (Before You Go-Go)" is especially appealing, and the results he gets and nods to each are stitches of great enjoyment, especially for us closet WHAM and Dirty Dancing fans, decades of hiding later. (These might also be a reason for the rumored American remake.)

Heartbreaker won't be Duris's defining role, but I'm convinced he'll have a role in the next few years where we'll see it. He's just too good and on too good of a roll for it to escape him at this point.

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