Monday, October 4, 2010


In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the French New Wave inspired American filmmakers, helping to birth a generation of smart, talky movies with gritty settings and psychologically complex antiheroes. Then Jaws ushered in the era of the Hollywood blockbuster and American movies became the coolest kids on the block again. And now French directors are mimicking American films, cranking out slick, sunny, unsophisticated entertainment like Heartbreaker. It’s the cinematic version of the circle of life.

Thoroughly predictable, instantly forgettable, and a lot of fun to watch, Heartbreaker feels more American than French – but American circa 1950 or so, since we don’t make ‘em like this any more. If real life worked the way things do in Heartbreaker, someone would hire Romain Duris to free Kate Hudson and Katherine Heigl from those lumbering rom com vehicles they keep getting trapped in.

Duris is Alex, the title character of Heartbreaker, a tousle-headed semi-hipster so charming he seduces women for a living. But Alex has ethics: he only goes after women who are in such bad relationships that someone who loves them wants them free for their own good, and he leaves as soon as a target has regained enough self-confidence or perspective to dump the cad who’s holding her back. He works with his highly efficient sister, Mélanie (played with antic gravity by Julie Ferrier) and her comically inept husband, Marc (François Damiens), who help mastermind the scenarios that set him up to succeed. The three make a cosy unconventional family unit, though Alex is a little lonely sometimes. But we know he won’t be mateless for long, since the laws of romantic comedy dictate that he will soon meet his match.

Cue Juliette (Vanessa Paradis), a gap-toothed beauty whose rich father hires Alex to break up her impending marriage. Juliette’s fiancé looks pretty perfect on paper – he’s attentive, adoring, good-looking and rich, and she says she loves him – but daddy is convinced that he’d bore her.

It’s not clear why, since Juliette doesn’t seem very interesting herself. That’s partly due to Paradis’ too-cool performance – she’s more Tippi Hedren than Grace Kelly – and partly because the script doesn’t tell us much about her, except that she’s an entitled rich girl who loves George Michael music and the movie Dirty Dancing. Juliette’s lack of magnetism is the film’s main weakness, since she’s the prize that motivates most of the action, but Duris almost makes up for that deficit with his surfeit of charm, vulnerability, sly humor, and sheer sex appeal. The Dirty Dancing theme is good for at least one thing: It gives Duris a reason to break out the swivel-hipped dancing he used in Paris, and I’m happy for any excuse to see more of that.

The setups Alex and his partners use to monitor and seduce his targets can get ludicrously elaborate, providing a welcome counterpart to the slow-blooming romance between Alex and Juliette (the scenario that opens the film is essentially a comic exaggeration of the setup in Cairo Time, a movie in serious need of taking itself less seriously). The humor sometimes takes on a gracelessly manic, borderline desperate edge, though, usually either when Alex or his brother-in-law are flinging themselves about like human sock puppets or when an obnoxious old chum of Juliette’s, who shows up to party with her before the wedding, torments Alex by forcing herself on him or sticking sharp objects in his thigh (never mind why; it’s a long story). And a subplot involving a large Serbian thug who shadows Alex, periodically beating or threatening him because of a debt, feels overly familiar.

But Duris’ appeal is strong enough to float right over those minor roadblocks, keeping this lightweight, lighthearted meringue of a movie aloft. There will always be a need for movies like this, so I’m glad somebody’s still making them.

Written for TimeOFF

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