' ' Cinema Romantico: Heartbreaker

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


A woman in North Africa with the traditional idiot boyfriend wants to see the dunes. Except the bus taking people to the dunes has already left. Drat. The husband begs out. Then an impossibly handsome doctor ferrying medical supplies to unfortunate children out in the desert says he can take her to see the dunes upon completion of his mission. She agrees. Once they reach the dunes he turns away, starts to cry, turns back, and her spirit is transformed. If this all sounds too good to be true that's precisely because it is. The doctor is, in fact, one Alex Lippi (Romain Dupis) who is specifically hired to break up women who are - as he says in the brief monologue following the deft opening - unhappy but don't know it. He and his team - comprised of his sister Melanie (Julie Ferrier) and her husband Marc (Francois Damiens), a fine side portrait of a marriage in the midst of true love - never break up happy couples and they never break up couples due to religion or race. Also, there is no sex. Never.

Not that Alex is entirely above reproach. He is soon approached by a couple thugs who explain Alex has 10 days to pay them the $30,000 he owes or else. Thus, Alex is forced to quickly re-consider the job he was offered by the father of Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) to break up her impending marriage in, ahem, 10 days time to Jonathan (Andrew Lincoln). In studying up (i.e. spying) Alex and his cohorts had discovered a couple very much in love. No could do. Ah, but if money's tight....

Alex installs himself as Juliette’s bodyguard employed by her father upon her arrival in scenic Monaco to prepare for the wedding ceremony at a plush hotel so he is always close by. He invests himself in her likes, including, but not limited to, wine, Chopin, George Michael and “Dirty Dancing”.

Certainly you can see what is coming from the onset but then every time I attend a Springsteen concert I can see “Born To Run” coming from before the house lights go down and, yet, it never fails to get me. Directed swiftly and professionally by Pascal Chaumeil, “Heartbreaker” (2010) is funny without ever getting too stupid and romantic without every getting too syrupy. It contains a high concept formula that refrains from formulaic feeling through old school execution.

Consider Paradis’s Juliette. Is she unhappy or isn’t she? Jonathan certainly seems like a catch near the top when Alex and cohorts scout their courtship and determine a break-up is impossible. The expectation that has been glimpsed in so many rom coms before (see: Bradley Cooper in “Wedding Crashers”) is to transform Jonathan into a loutish monster, more and more, scene by scene. But Jonathan, more or less, remains the same. Granted, he’s a bit bland, a bit safe, though the screenplay, gradually, will reveal precise and believable motives for Juliette to have found herself in this situation, and those very same motives also make sense as to why Juliette might just find herself sensing an attraction to this scruffy, bodyguarding lothario. Paradis’s performance here too is rather key in the way that she seems reluctant to play her hand too early. (Paradis, though, might turn off some American viewers because of her overt Frenchness - which is to say she possesses no forced perky joviality, thank God - and that charming gap in her teeth which she apparently has no desire to fix, thank God.)

Credit goes to both Paradis and Dupis for somehow averting potential disaster in the “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” homage and rendering it sweet and funny at once. If you ever wondered what might happen if we up and moved Johnny & Baby from the Catskills to the Mediterranean, “Heartbreaker” supplies the perfect answer.

The writers here are Laurent Zeitoun, Jeremy Doner and Yoann Gromb and I hold their names up to any and all American rom com screenwriters (and there’s a gaggle of you) and ask - no, no, no implore - What the hell is wrong with you, people?! Why can’t you pen a script like this one?! Is it really so hard?!

Funny enough, in reading up on “Heartbreaker” afterwards I learned that, in fact, an American remake is in the works. Lord help us. I’d actually had a different idea as the credits rolled. What about a sequel? Well, not so much as a sequel as an equal. “Heartbreaker 2” told from the perspective of a woman who is hired to break up males who are unhappy and don’t know it. How about it? Maybe it’s just me but wouldn’t Sienna Miller make a perfect Alexandra Lippi?


Simon said...

Does Andrew Lincoln speak French or English in this? I've been wondering.

Nick Prigge said...

You know what, as I sit here typing this I honestly can't remember. But I think he was speaking English with a few French words thrown in now and then. Lot of good I am.