by Sarah Silver
Dir. Pascal Chaumeil, France, IFC FIlms
In television director Pascal Chaumeil’s cable-ready Heartbreaker, Romain Duris, all matted hair and pit-stained shirts, practically emanates an odor of Roquefort through the screen as Alex Lippi, an unctuous young man making a career of wooing women out of unsatisfactory relationships. Alex’s services are sought out by meddling best friends and concerned siblings who pay him to waltz into a female loved one’s life and play the role of the perfect man, thereby opening her eyes to a world of romantic possibilities beyond her current schlub.
Thanks to the research of his wacky partners in crime (Julie Ferrier and François Damiens), he enters each scenario armed with a mental list of his unwitting clients’ preferences in music and art. Appearing out of thin air for a meet-cute in a Japanese cooking class/gospel choir rehearsal/breaking-and-entering crime scene, Alex sweeps women off their feet by saying things they already knew, but weren’t able to believe until they heard them from this greasy Casanova’s pursed lips. The deal is sealed after Alex turns on the waterworks (a recurring gag shot has him turning toward the camera and screwing up his face to squeeze out a tear), and plants an innocent kiss, after which he tells each lady, “It’s too late for me. But you have so much to offer . . .”
The pacing of the caper-like expository montage is sleek and exhilarating as it cuts back-and-forth between various scenarios showing Alex repeatedly delivering the same speech to different damsels. It sets a savvy, practical tone regarding love, one that the film immediately proceeds to distort into run-of-the-mill romcom cliché. Things turn hackneyed once Alex meets Juliette Van Der Becq (Vanessa Paradis), the one woman who (as the American voiceover in the trailer describes it), makes him “break his golden rule: never fall in love.” Besides having a knockout body and cheekbones so angled you could ski jump off them, she enjoys the music of Wham! and is a closeted Dirty Dancing fan, so, obviously, l’amour fou ensues. Never mind the fact that Juliette is in a happy, long-lasting relationship with a genteel Brit (Andrew Lincoln) whom she plans on marrying in a few short days, nor that one of Lippi’s many credos is never to break up a happy relationship. All protocol is thrown aside once “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” is clandestinely shared on a brief car ride from restaurant to hotel.
Duris moves lithely through his role, and even elicits genuine laughs as he pushes some of the more ridiculous plot contrivances over the top (when attending a Chopin concert, his method of proving to Juliette that he admires the music is to exaggeratedly mime the movements of the piano player). One gets the feeling in such moments that Duris is aware of how ludicrous the plot has become, for he is downright mocking in his facial expressions, and it’s this sensation (imagined or not) of sharing a knowing chuckle with Duris that makes the latter half of the film bearable.
Despite (or, perhaps, because of) the fact that Heartbreaker pays blatant homage to American romantic comedies of recent years (the plot is a French twist on 2008’s My Best Friend’s Girl), it is surely destined for a stateside remake by some tangential Apatow affiliate, with Russell Brand as the oily, vaguely exotic titular character and Paul Rudd as the old reliable boyfriend who gets had. If that unfortunate exercise in redundancy does come to fruition, I motion that they use Heartbreaker as the foreign movie over which the hero and heroine bond, because perhaps, at that moment, the film would form an uroborus-like loop in the projector and just obliterate itself.