Looking for love — real or not — in ‘Heartbreaker’
Are there many women willing to leave their husband, boyfriend, or fiance for a stranger? If “Heartbreaker,’’ a new zero-calorie French comedy, is to be believed — and it isn’t — the answer is “yes.’’ Also yes, if the stranger looks like the thin, athletic stars of certain Italian Renaissance paintings and makes a pit stop to minister to cute Algerian orphans on the way to escorting you to see the dunes. The movie’s premise is that he’s not for real.
When families and friends think a woman can do better than her current mate, they hire Alex Lippi (Romain Duris) and his two-person team — his sister and her husband — to provide such a powerful seduction that all she sees is this new perfect man. He’ll dump her and disappear. But she’ll know what real romantic satisfaction is. He’s perfect only because his clients give information about the woman’s favorite stuff, what the mate lacks, what the woman desires. Each job is treated with the slickness (costumes, props, lite-funk score) used for most modern spy capers, namely “Mission: Impossible.’’
Pascal Chaumeil directed “Heartbreaker,’’ which is credited to three screenwriters. This is a movie whose cynicism in the name of idealism might have appealed to Billy Wilder. But it has neither a cynic’s conviction nor idealist’s perseverance, and its ideas about what a woman wants seem cribbed from bad paperback fiction. All the same, the movie was a smash in France and is destined for an American remake.
This being a comedy well south of original (cue the last-minute airport epiphany), Alex starts falling for his latest mission: Juliette, a woman on vacation in Monaco whose corrupt father has hired Alex’s team to sabotage her engagement to a well-heeled, morally flawless Englishman. It’s an illogical job, since the couple seems happy enough, but Alex takes it because he’s a spendaholic in debt. Otherwise, this assignment doesn’t seem terribly unique. All that differentiates it from previous ones is that it hasn’t been stuffed into one of the zippy seduction montages that pops up near the movie’s beginning and that none of those women was played by Vanessa Paradis.
Paradis has a strange beauty. She’s a decent example of the French praising insult “jolie laide.’’ Tarzan could swing through the gap between her front teeth, and for as long as she’s been famous (since the 1980s), she’s seemed hypnotized, as if the doctor who put her under left the office and never returned. (She’s Johnny Depp’s partner and the mother of his children.) In “Heartbreaker,’’ her job is to look great while keeping a straight face around Duris, who pretends to be Juliette’s bodyguard. What she does here can barely be called work. It’s the charismatic Duris who does all the lifting, including of Paradis, in the movie’s most tolerably adorable scene.
Alex learns Juliette’s passions involve George Michael and “Dirty Dancing,’’ whose climactic dance the movie restages as a private moment between her and Alex. It’s corny, but it’s the rare scene in which Alex’s scam works on us. We should feel more embarrassment than we do. Of course, Paradis might be better in this movie than I’ve led you to believe. When the truth is inevitably (and clumsily) revealed, Juliette’s response is a surprise. Paradis comes up with a wonderful look of serenity. It’s the only moment that doesn’t feel concocted. She’s had the time of her life.
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com.