Let me start with a disclaimer — I’m not the biggest fan of romantic comedies. I go into them expecting them to be trite, cheesy and ultimately uninteresting, and only rarely do they prove me wrong. What drew me to “L’Arnacoeur” (re-named “Heartbreaker” for English-speaking audiences) was the title. It’s a clever pun, combining the French words for “heart” and “swindler,” and I figured if the movie was half as witty as its title, it would be worth watching.
If you like the genre, it’s not a bad movie. It’s actually rather enjoyable. While not as risqué as other French sex comedies, it doesn’t quite fall victim to the Hollywood sanitizing effect that ruined movies like the “Dinner for Schmucks” remake. It sustains a lighthearted tone throughout, and is definitely charming at times.
“L’Arnacoeur” stars Romain Duris, arguably France’s biggest leading man these days, as Alex. He breaks up couples for a living. The way Alex does this is by seducing the woman in the relationship and convincing her she’s better off without her partner. He’s basically the opposite of Hitch. Two points the movie drives home are that a) though he seduces these women, he never sleeps with them, and b) he’s doing this for their own good, because they are unhappy and don’t realize it.
Enter Van der Becq, a rich businessman type. His daughter, Juliette, played by Vanessa Paradis, is getting married in 10 days, and he wants to break up the wedding. Here’s the catch — the fiancé is handsome, successful and completely in love with her. About as perfect as a movie character can get. He’s the kind of guy who still writes her scented love letters after three years together.
We’re never quite sure why they should break up in the first place, though romantic comedy convention dictates she’ll eventually have to find the error in her ways and fall in love with Alex.
Alex operates with a team comprised of his sister and her husband, and they take on this seemingly impossible task because they’re in severe financial debt. Their money troubles are not-so-subtly represented by a seven foot Serbian thug who works for Alex’s creditor and always seems to pop up at an inopportune time. The team has surveillance technology and disguises worthy of Danny Ocean and his crew, and the film begins with them setting off for Monaco.
The movie is beautifully shot, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s set in one of the most luxurious parts of the Riviera. It’s tempting to associate the location with the wealth and excess that the characters should represent, but everyone is surprisingly likeable. Juliette’s biggest flaws are that she eats Roquefort for breakfast and her favorite song is “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” No joke. And on that note — where, other than Europe, could a worldly, sophisticated heiress publicly declare her love for Wham! and be taken seriously? Duris and Paradis have excellent chemistry, and one has to wonder why they’re not cast together more often. Both are talented enough that they make us genuinely like their characters and hope they’ll get together in the end.
A lot of “L’Arnacoeur” is silly and over the top, but the camp is precisely what makes it fun. It pays homage to overdone movie conventions and includes no less than multiple action sequences, a car chase, a fight scene and a running-through-the-airport scene. Oh, and dancing. In another ’80s throwback, Juliette’s favorite movie is “Dirty Dancing,” which allows for repeats of “Time Of My Life” and reenactments of its famous dance sequence. One of the most admirable aspects of “L’Arnacoeur” is its self-awareness, and how it manages to take a step back and make fun of itself without turning into an outright parody. It almost makes us forget how sappy and atrocious the last 20 minutes are. Or maybe I’m just a cynic.
So is it worth going to see in theaters? Sure, if you like the genre and have $11 to spare. It’s not a groundbreaking movie by any means, but it was a hit in France and at the Tribeca Film Festival for a reason. Duris and Paradis are both completely underrated outside of France, so it’s nice to see both of them in their element. And if nothing else, everything sounds more interesting in French.