Saturday, 10 July 2010

'Heartbreaker' review: More fun than you'd think...

'Heartbreaker' doesn't seen to offer a lot at a first glance. Watching the trailer you see what looks like a by-the-numbers romantic comedy, with broad jokes and a sumptuous, Glamour Magazine friendly mise en scène. Added to that is the fact that its director, Pascal Chaumeil, has previously only worked on French television. And whilst its male lead, Romain Duris, is known for Jacques Audiard's acclaimed 'The Beat That My Heart Skipped', his female co-star Vanessa Paradis is more famous as a pop star than an actress.

The set-up is high concept stuff: Alex (Duris) is a man with a gift for seduction so great that he works professionally as a seducer of unhappy women. Friends and family of women in bad relationships call upon Alex to show the women that she is not with the right guy and that she deserves more. He has ground rules, chief among them is that he will not knowingly separate a happy couple. However, this is tested when a wealthy father offers Alex $50,000 to break-up his daughter Juliette's (Paradis) impending engagement, with ten days before the wedding. Alex refuses, as she seems happy, but crippling debts owed to threatening mobsters soon forces his hand and he poses as Juliette's bodyguard. Hilarity ensues.

On the surface it looks like a light and frothy, low-carb, calorie-free piece of cinema and the film's 105 minutes certainly do nothing to challenge this preconception. But it would take a hard hearted and cynical individual not to admit that there are a few genuine laughs to be had it what is probably the most fun, least cliché-ridden romantic comedy I was seen in a couple of years.

One of the main factors in my enjoyment was Romain Duris who is an extremely gifted and charismatic comic actor. I found myself laughing at his every movement and facial expression. There is a scene where he nervously and half-heartedly sings along to the Wham! song 'Wake Me Up Before you Go-Go' whilst driving. He mumbles his way through it, missing out lyrics and emphasising the odd line. Embarrassing, out-of-tune singing is not new to film comedy, but here Duris takes quite an ordinary bit of comic business and runs with it in a way that is genuinely amusing. Like the Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, Duris is able to be genuinely charming and attractive, yet he isn't afraid to be self-deprecating either and that combination is winsome. He is also (as he proves in the third act) a damn fine dancer!

Paradis is less interesting a presence, not helped by the fact her character spends a fair portion of the film being a bit unlikeable, giving our hero a hard time. But she isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. There are also nice performances from Julie Ferrier ('Micmacs') and Belgian actor François Damiens ('JCVD'), who play a husband and wife duo working for Alex. The couple do the surveillance and research work for Alex, pinning down the strength and weaknesses, the likes and dislikes, of his targets. Ferrier in particular is quite funny, as her character constantly adopts new disguises wherever the group go.

It is also to the film's great credit that the inevitable scene of realisation (where Paradis learns Duris' identity) is not followed by a scene of conflict or misunderstanding as is so often the case in lazier films of this kind. It is for reasons such as this that 'Heartbreaker' stands out amongst its similarly glossy peers.

With its classy, chic Monaco setting and high-fashion characters, 'Heartbreaker' also offers a less tacky, genuinely classy alternative to the horrifying likes of 'Sex & the City 2'. There is really nothing to strongly object to here. Perhaps the scenes involving a silent Algerian strongman are ill-conceived and could easily be excised without doing the plot any harm, along with the entire "owing the gangsters money" sub-plot. But the film is fun enough and is knowing enough (subverting genre clichés more often that it conforms to them) that its flaws are easy to forgive and its joys easy to appreciate.

By no means a candidate for 'Film of the Year', like I said from the start this is throwaway, disposable stuff. It's the sort of film you'll forget you ever saw a week after you saw it. But for the time you are in the cinema it is more fun, more charming and more entertaining than it seemed to have any right to be. Rumoured to be subject of an American remake in the near future, it is doubtful whether the film will work without Romain Duris.

'Heartbreaker' is rated '15' by the BBFC and can be seen all week at Brighton's Duke of York's cinema.

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