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Heartbreaker
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by Jay Seaver

"Apparently, what a woman really wants is someone who lies to them."
2 stars

Making a good romantic comedy seems easy enough, in theory: Come up with some witty banter, figure out what makes the people delivering it interesting and likable, add a reason that they aren't kissing by the end of the first act, and fill in the rest until you've got a hundred double-spaced pages. Then you just have to find some charming, nice-looking actors and you're good to go. It's so simple that you have to wonder why the people making "Heartbreaker" ("L'arnacoeur" in the original French) jumped straight to step three.

The heartbreaker of the title is Alex Lippi (Romain Duris), a handsome young man who, along with his sister Melanie (Julie Ferrier) and her husband Marc (François Damiens), operates an unusual business: Family and friends of women in bad relationships hire them to break the couple up, with Melanie and Marc creating a convincing background for Alex. He never sleeps with the women he seduces, and they never take the case of women who are truly in love. Until now, maybe - Juliette Van Der Becq (Vanessa Paradis) is set to marry Jonathan Alcott (Andrew Lincoln) in ten days time. He's nice but bland. Her father (Jacques Frantz) wants him gone, but if it weren't for the group's massive debts, they wouldn't go near the job - and that's before Sophie (Helena Noguerra), a mysterious friend of the bride-to-be who didn't show up their research, shows up. Or Alex starts to like her himself.

Most comedies, romantic or otherwise, have an unlikely situation or two used to somewhere in their script, even somewhere central; it's how you get screwy situations that (hopefully) later translate into comedy gold. The trick is to make these moments seem reasonable, and that's something director Pascal Chaumeil and writers Laurent Zeitoun, Jeremy Doner, and Yohan Gromb rather fail to do. Why, for instance, do Alex and company not know that their debts are, in a roundabout way, owed to their client? Keeping this secret doesn't add more than a couple mediocre jokes, and needlessly confuses the audience. Similarly, Melanie gripes about how the cupboard is bare right before they, without an advance, take a job in Monte Carlo that will require some resources to run. Why make the point about how this stuff is expensive and tricky if you're not actually going to play on how the whole thing could easily fall apart?

But the biggest problem that this one faces isn't structural; it's that there's really nothing to Juliette and Alex, either individually or as a pair. Yes, Juliette is a little prickly around Alex, but there's nothing to it that says secret attraction rather than genuine annoyance. There's also nothing about her that says she actually needs someone more exciting than Jonathan (although Lincoln does a nice job of making him a little annoying without ever secretly seeming like a bad person). Alex has a sort of superficial charm, but the whole point of the movie is that it's a put-on job, and neither Chaumeil nor Duris does much of anything to differentiate between him feeding Juliette a line or speaking from the heart. Well, there is the recurring theme of how he never sees things through, which is delivered with all the subtlety of Marty McFly tensing up when called "chicken". We need to see these two connecting for real, not just her being seduced or him doing something that speaks to his own issues. Instead, we get Dirty Dancing scenes recreated

Now, they're not entirely bad together, but given this movie's story, "not entirely bad" isn't good enough. They've each got some good moments - Duris, in particular, has an effervescent charm that would be worth a look in a better movie, though Paradis has difficulty making her character's charm appear beyond her cool demeanor. Both tend to get upstaged by their supporting characters - Noguerra's trashy old friend, Ferrier's sensible but mercenary sister, and especially Damiens as the nerdy but enthusiastic Marc.

The jokes aren't bad, and the locations are beautiful. But the bar for our liking Alex and Juliette together is pretty high - we've got to believe that she should call off her wedding for a guy who is doing nothing but feeding her lies, and this story just doesn't have the passion or sense to make it work.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=20455&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/13/10 14:39:15
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Traverse City Film Festival For more in the 2010 Traverse City Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  10-Sep-2010 (NR)
  DVD: 11-Jan-2011

UK
  N/A

Australia
  10-Sep-2010




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