Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: While David Wain rips into the conventions of the modern romantic comedy with They Came Together, we recommend a few unlikely gems of the genre.
According to Alex Lippi (Romain Duris), women in love come in three flavors: “happy, knowingly unhappy, and unknowingly unhappy.” He, his sister Mélanie (Julie Ferrier), and her husband, Marc (François Damiens), offer an unorthodox service for the latter. For a large fee, a concerned friend or sibling or parent can hire this team to plot elaborate seductions for an “unknowingly unhappy” woman, who will then be inspired to dump her sorry significant other. These ruses are expensive and meticulously researched, with the three coming up with a perfect plan that will remind the client, Oprah-style, to live her best life. And if she returns to the dud dude, they’ll issue a full refund. It’s a bit like a boyfriend experience with a different sort of happy ending. (One of the cardinal rules is that Alex doesn’t sleep with the mark.) No one gets hurt. Everyone leaves happy.
Well, maybe not everyone. Alex is a compulsive liar, lives in the office, and secretly owes some bad people a lot of money. The family business is in the red, because the cost of renting a Moroccan village full of doves to release over the dunes as the sun sets… well, it all adds up. The team takes on that infamous One Last Job for a shady but rich businessman named Van Der Beck (Jacques Frantz), who wants to break up his daughter Juliette (Vanessa Paradis) and her fiancé (Andrew Lincoln), before their impending nuptuals. The hitch is that the two are perfect: gorgeous, rich, philanthropic, successful, intelligent, and madly in love with each other. Alex poses as the bride-to-be’s bodyguard, with Mélanie and Marc juggling various spying duties with a slapstick dash. Juliette tries to pay Alex off, ditch him, and embarrass him, but it’s not until an old party pal shows up that the mark’s mask begins to slip.
Revealingly, Juliette’s favorite movie is Dirty Dancing. While the parallels are obvious, even to Alex, this detail humanizes her. “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is like Pavlov’s bell for every person who’s watched Dirty Dancing at a sleepover, late at night on the couch, or after a bad breakup. Even those whose lives will never resemble Juliette’s (or Paradis’, because even though this is the rare film with age-appropriate love interests, she’s still Vanessa Paradis) can relate to her embarrassing love of Dirty Dancing and all that entails—fear, loneliness, heartbreak, sadness, the desire to carry a watermelon. Heartbreaker can stand on its own merits, but it benefits from this association.
The film industry’s consistent surprise that women are a significant box-office draw reflects a prevalent attitude that anything women or teen girls like must be dumb and fluffy and not worth engaging with on an intellectual level. In certain cinephile circles, admitting a love for the romantic comedy—and not just classics from Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder—feels embarrassing, like waking up with a red wine hangover or identifying too much with a Cathy comic. Heartbreaker has some problematic ideas about women, the most perilous being that they can only get their groove back with help from a man. On the other hand, the movie clearly takes place in a world of make-believe, and dammit, sometimes a Cathy cartoon is a little bit closer to reality than is comfortable. Isn’t there always someone who should be erased from a romantic Rolodex? On the right day, one might wish there was an Alex for everyone.
Availability: Heartbreaker is available on DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, and to rent or purchase digitally through Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.