A Charming 'Heartbreaker,' Paid To Do You Wrong

Romain Duris, Vanessa Paradis

hide captionNear Perfect: Alex (Romain Duris, left) may seem like a good fit for Juliette (Vanessa Paradis), but he's just in it for the money.

Magali Bragard/IFC Films

Heartbreaker

  • Director: Pascal Chaumeil
  • Genre: Romantic Comedy
  • Running Time: 104 minutes

Not rated.

With: Romain Duris, Vanessa Paradis

In French with English subtitles

As light as meringue and almost as sweet, Heartbreaker is titled after the nom de guerre of its protagonist, Alex (Romain Duris, so devastating in The Beat That My Heart Skipped). It's an apt epithet: "I break up couples for a living," he tells us, after we see him do just that.

Set in Marrakech, that opening sequence is fleet, funny and smooth as butter, with a screwball sensibility that raises hopes of a decent — if ridiculously implausible — romantic-comedy ride. And until the fizz-smothering appearance of bland beauty Vanessa Paradis (singer, model and longtime squeeze of Johnny Depp), that's exactly what we get.

Hired by friends and family members to save unwitting women from settling for the wrong men, Alex has only two rules: Never interfere if the breakup request is motivated by race or religion, or if the woman is genuinely happy. This means he interjects only on behalf of women either unaware that they are miserable or unable to act on it — an inherently insulting premise that only a French farce, and the scruffy jowls of Monsieur Duris, could conceivably pull off.

Assisted by his multilingual sister Melanie (Julie Ferrier) and her electronics-whiz husband Marc (Francois Damiens), Alex screens and stalks, flirts and insinuates himself between his mark and her undesirable paramour. Turning on tears and charm at will, he concocts elaborate back stories designed to melt a girl's heart, then courteously withdraws before consummation. Having glimpsed ecstasy, his target can't get away from her loser beau fast enough, and Alex has earned his fee. It's a booming family business, until he meets Juliette (Paradis), a symphony of gap teeth, knock knees and rampant cheekbones.

Romain Duris

hide captionLife On The edge: External forces, including an eager debt collector, convince Alex to take a case he normally wouldn't have taken.

Magali Bragard/IFC Films

A wine expert and once-wild daughter of a flower tycoon, Juliette is planning a Monte Carlo wedding to Jonathan (Andrew Lincoln), a wealthy Englishman with overbearing parents and an underdeveloped chin. For undisclosed reasons, Juliette's daddy wants this seemingly perfect relationship ended, an assignment that would normally violate Alex's principles. But with a relentless loan shark and his East European sidekick lurking unexplained in the wings, Alex's principles evaporate like the morning mist on the Riviera. Photogenic capers ensue.

Frothy, frantic and inescapably unromantic — the two leads have less chemistry than an American high-school curriculum — Heartbreaker marks the uneven feature debut of television director Pascal Chaumeil. A trite homage to Dirty Dancing, and the improbable juxtaposition of Dusty Springfield and George Michael on the soundtrack, clearly aim beyond French shores, but Duris, despite Swayze moves and Gael Garcia Bernal curls, isn't a natural comedian, and his comeuppance is so preordained that the film seems to be mocking formula even as it cleaves to it. Nevertheless the dialogue is sharp and the Monaco coastline, lovingly captured by veteran cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, has a To Catch A Thief glint. I just wish it didn't take 105 minutes to get from 'allo to amour.

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