French TV director Pascal Chaumeil enters the theatrical film scene with the charming, funny and actually romantic—three elements most of Hollywood’s recent romantic comedies lack in abundance—Heartbreaker. But before we all go off in a fit of cultural inferiority—not that French cinema seems to cause that so much these days—it might be wise to note that Heartbreaker owes part of its plot to Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934) and even duplicates a key scene pretty exactly. It’s also awash in American and British pop culture by way of Dirty Dancing (1987) and George Michael—and the film itself appears not to feel superior to these elements, though in the case of Dirty Dancing and George Michael, it probably should.
Romain Duris (Paris) stars as Alex Lippi, a guy who—with his sister, Mélanie (Julie Ferrier, Micmacs), and her husband, Marc (François Damiens)—runs a little business that specializes in getting women to split up with unsuitable—abusive or neglectful—men. How? Well, Alex gets them to fall in love with him, and then paints himself as so completely in mourning for some other relationship that the liberated women move on with their lives. This sounds unethical—and it is, well, sort of. Alex et cie have rules that they’ll only break up couples who shouldn’t be together, and they won’t break up couples over questions of race or religion. When we first meet them, they’re in action and those rules seem to be adhered to.
That remains the status until Alex is asked to break up the wedding of wealthy socialite Juliette Van Der Becq (Vanessa Paradis, Girl on the Bridge). It’s a commission from her father (Jacques Frantz) and it has two problems: The team has only 10 days to pull it off and Alex can determine no reason why Juliette shouldn’t marry Jonathan Alcott (Andrew Lincoln, Love Actually). However, ethics and common sense are pretty elastic when you owe a large sum of money to gangster types who are threatening to rearrange your face if you don’t pay up. With that as an inducement, Alex takes the job and follows Juliette to Monaco.
Unable to interest her, Alex ends up passing himself off (somewhat improbably) as a bodyguard her father hired. Since she isn’t buying this—despite her father’s assurance that he did hire Alex—it becomes necessary to stage an attack on Juliette so that he can come to her rescue. It works and it looks like his attempts at winning her affections also might work—until Juliette’s hard-drinking nymphomaniac friend Sophie (Héléna Noguerra) shows up and takes a shine to Alex as the nearest available male. Things become even more complicated with the arrival of the fiancé and the inevitable gangsters. And it’s all complicated by the most inevitable aspect of all: Alex falling in love with Juliette.
Yes, it’s contrived, but that’s not necessarily a downside with this kind of film. It also tries too hard on occasion—the nymphomaniac friend is handled too broadly and crudely to really mesh with the rest of the movie. But overall, Heartbreaker manages to be such a pleasant little soufflé of a movie that it’s hard not to like it on its own terms. It has nothing profound to say—except maybe that even an attentive great guy (as in the case of Jonathan) can be a total bore—but then it doesn’t try to, and it’s very good at not trying to be profound. Not rated, but would certainly qualify for an R for sexuality, language and a bit of nudity.