December 24, 2010
Whilst I am not at all a member of the “target audience” for so-called contemporary “rom-coms” or “chick flicks”, I do have something of a soft spot for slightly strange French comedies and it is very much with that in mind that I wholeheartedly embraced Pascal Chaumeil’s Heartbreaker (L’arnacoeur, 2010).
The premise adheres to a standard rom-com paradigm whereby a beautiful, rich, young woman, Juliette Van Der Becq (Vanessa Paradis) is about to marry “the wrong man”; an equally rich and charming young man named Jonathan Alcott (played by This Life‘s Andrew Lincoln). Juliette’s father then hires our “heartbreaker” in question, Alex Lippi (Romain Duris) to put a stop to their impending nuptials. As you would expect, Lippi, who breaks up unseemly couples for a scant living with the aid of his sister and her husband, falls for sweet Juliette and a great, comic romance ensues. This all sounds decidedly standard, so why exactly did I take to this film when I so dislike other films of this ilk?
Well, that would be down to the “Frenchness” of it all. Firstly, our “wrong man” character is English and, as someone who can sort of lay claim to Englishness, I found the French dislike of this seemingly perfect, yet far too upper class, Oxbridge-humanitarian-toff-like man immensely amusing. Furthermore, Lippi’s “job” as a heartbreaker is so loaded with excessive cliché that it actually reaches the realms of self-reflexivity from time to time (an early scene involving white doves illustrates this beautifully). It is also the specific absurdities of the film that caught me pleasantly by surprise; the idea of eating Roquefort for breakfast and the incomprehensibly unkind yet still silly slapstick treatment of Juliette’s slutty best friend.
Finally, what’s best about this film is Romain Duris’ quality comic timing. Far better suited to intense, gritty roles in films such as Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De Battre Mon Coeur S’est Arrêté, 2005), Duris’ goofy smile is so wildly out-of-place here that it is almost impossible not to stifle at least a wee giggle if not a galant gaffaw every time he flashes his pearly whites.
Certainly not a film with too much intelligent subtext, Heartbreaker is a refreshingly funny rom-com that provides the kind of foolish entertainment any half-way decent comedy ought.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.