by HELEN GEIB
Alex (Romain Duris) is a professional break-up artist. With his big sister Melanie (Julie Ferrier) and her husband, he makes a living from breaking up bad relationships. It’s a company with a strong ethical code, though: they only take the job if the woman is unhappy, but doesn’t know she’s unhappy, and Alex never sleeps with the target. Their modus operandi is to coax the woman into realizing that she deserves better than that jerk, something her family or friends who paid for the break-up already know.
In my free-talking post this month, I wrote a few paragraphs on meaningful titles as an entry point for analysis. While I appreciate significance, the titles I enjoy the most are the fun, punning ones like “Heartbreaker.”
As my plot summary should make clear, Alex is not a breaker of hearts. He liberates, actualizes, frees hearts; pick your positive verb of choice. The (unwitting) “heartbreaker” is the lovely Juliette (Vanessa Paradis), Alex’s latest target and the toughest nut he’s ever tried to crack. She doesn’t seem interested in Alex or in breaking up with her fiance, who incidentally is an all-around great guy. The closer Alex gets to Juliette, the more it looks like she’ll be his first failure- and that he’ll be the one to have his heart broken in the process.
The French Heartbreaker is the best new romantic comedy I’ve seen in a long time, from any country. Lest it seem like I damn with faint praise, I hasten to add that it’s a good romantic comedy in absolute as well as relative terms. Since it is a classical romantic comedy, we knew all along that Juliette’s father is right in trying to break up her impending wedding, that she is unhappy without knowing it, and that she and Alex are meant to be together. We wait in pleasurable anticipation for Juliette to realize it, and for Alex to admit that this time, he’s not acting. They’re attractive people (played by attractive and talented actors) and we’re rooting for them all the way.
The charm’s in the details. Alex and Melanie only agree to take the Juliette job because the company’s flat broke and Alex owes money to a loan shark. The break-up artist’s extravagant perfectionism that got them into this fix is demonstrated in a hilarious montage of prior jobs, featuring Alex in such roles as knife-wielding master chef in a Japanese restaurant and sweeper for a curling team. It’s an impressive family, with the polymath Melanie popping up in a different role every time, from Chinese-speaking concierge to motorcycle-riding purse-snatcher to lifeguard. Some of the biggest laughs come from Alex’s attempts to fool Juliette into thinking he likes the same things she does. His rehearsing the dance numbers from Dirty Dancing, her favorite movie, is a funny running joke with a big romantic payoff.
Heartbreaker is available on DVD only. A trailer and TV ad constitute the minimal extras.
New releases this week: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Enter the Void, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Nowhere Boy, Red, Saw: The Final Chapter, Secretariat