Heartbreaker is the kind of romantic comedy that Hollywood doesn't seem to know how to make anymore -- one that's actually both witty and romantic, with just the right accent of sadness and loss thrown in (because, you know, boy meets girl, then boy loses girl before boy eventually gets girl).
It's such an effervescent delight, in fact, that I have no doubt someone in Hollywood is making the deal right this minute to remake and totally screw it up.
Directed by Pascal Chaumeil from a script by a trio of writers, Heartbreaker stars the charming Romain Duris, who is lithe, handsome and incredibly fluid when it comes to shifting gears unexpectedly. He plays Alex, part of a trio whose business involves helping convince women who don't know that they're in a relationship with the wrong guy. As Alex explains in voiceover, there are three types of women: happy, unhappy, and ones who are unhappy with their relationships but don't know it yet. Those are the ones in which Alex and his colleages, Marc (Francois Damiens) and Melanie (Julie Ferrier), specialize.
Alex is first seen in Africa, where a woman, on vacation with her boyfriend, leaves the sullen lunk (who wants to stay at the hotel, drinking and watching a promised wet-T-shirt contest) behind for a tour of the dunes. But her boyfriend has caused her to miss the bus. Luckily, she finds a savior, who offers to show her the dunes, right after he makes a stop to do pro bono humanitarian work with orphaned children in a tiny village.
This, of course, is Alex and his team. They not only impress her -- they make her fall instantly in love with him, though he assures her they can never be an item because he's on his way out of the country. But it's enough: She goes back to the hotel and dumps the boyfriend -- and her brother, unbeknownst to her, pays off Alex and his colleagues.
But Alex may have met his match when he's hired by a wealthy flower merchant to break up his headstrong daughter from her fiancée. The daughter, Juliette (Vanessa Paradis), is set to marry an Englishman (Andrew Lincoln) who, from all appearances is perfect for her. Indeed, having done enough research to figure that out, Alex initially turns down the job.
But when a loan shark, to whom Alex owes a large sum, demands his money on pain of serious bodily harm, Alex changes his mind. He and his team specialize in doing research into their subject's likes and dislikes, then fashioning Alex as the ideal man. They'll just have to work a little harder this time.
That's amplified by the time constraint: Juliette is off to Monaco, where she will spend the week leading to her wedding making preparations. Alex inserts himself into her life as her bodyguard, hired by her father because of threats on her life. She initially resists -- she even ditches him a couple of times -- but he and his squad eventually manipulate her into viewing him as a necessity.
Turning him into the man who will cause her to call off her wedding is a tougher task. But, between her love of George Michael's music and her passion for the film Dirty Dancing, they've got enough to work with.
You can probably see where this is going; Before long, the distance Alex maintains from his clients vanishes and he finds himself doing the one thing he never does: falling for Juliette. Yet her fiancé's arrival is imminent -- can he pull it off?
The romantic comedy, in which one partner makes the other fall in love under false pretenses, always has a tough ending to pull off, yet Chaumeil manages it with both grace and ingenuity. Heartbreaker makes everything look easy, including learning that big dance number between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey from the end of Dirty Dancing.
Much of that credit must go to Duris, a handsome but also rubbery and facile comedian. He has an ease that seems natural and smooth, unforced even at moments of jeopardy. And he has a solid foil in Paradis, who has the sly self-awareness of a French Michelle Pfeiffer. Nor can enough be said about the unobtrusive scene stealing by the rest of the cast: Damiens and Ferrier as his accomplices, Helena Noguerra as her slutty friend who shows up unannounced to throw a wrench into the proceedings.
Heartbreaker earns both its laughs and its romantic sighs. It is a soufflé of a comedy, airy and tasty at the same time.