Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tribeca ’10: Heartbreaker

Even in France, any man who tells a woman he also loves George Michael’s Wham! and the movie Dirty Dancing is lying. At least Alex is not doing it for lecherous reasons. It is strictly business for him. Hired by clients to break-up the dysfunctional relationships of their loved ones, Alex’s business is seduction. Yet, he will face his greatest professional and personal challenge in Pascal Chaumeil’s Heartbreaker, which screens during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

Alex has one hard-and-fast rule: he never breaks up happy couples. However, his impatient loan shark provides sufficient incentive to break that rule in the case of Juliette and her apparently perfect fiancé. Working undercover as her bodyguard, he gains access to the betrothed wine expert, but even with the inside information assembled by his sister Mélanie and her loving doofus husband Marc, the break-up specialist has trouble closing the sale. Instead, it is Juliette who inspires Alex to break his other unstated but clearly implied rule when he starts to fall for her himself. Obviously, complications ensue.

There is a fair amount of broad farcical humor in Heartbreaker, much of it supplied by his sister and brother-in-law. However, Heartbreaker is an unapologetically sentimental rom-com at heart. Fortunately, it all more or less works thanks to the strong chemistry between the two leads. Romain Duris (Juliette Binoche’s brother in Paris) is a thoroughly likable cad, while Vanessa Paradis is not just a striking beauty, but also charismatic in a mature and sophisticated way. They look good and dance well together, when they recreate the climatic Dirty Dancing number during one of Alex’s seduction attempts.

Chaumeil cut his teeth with AD and unit work on Luc Besson films like The Fifth Element and The Professional. Despite radical differences in genre and subject matter, he seems to have picked up a good sense of pacing through those gigs, because Heartbreaker never loses momentum. Its light and frothy atmosphere is further heightened by the beautiful Monte Carlo settings, which glisten through the lens of cinematographer Thierry Arbogast. Indeed, the film makes the most of its exclusive locale, even throwing in a cameo by model Victoria Silvstedt for added glamour.

Heartbreaker is like a French film trying to be a Hollywood movie, but doing a better job of it. It has an engaging charm that might not offer many surprises, but delivers plenty of satisfaction. A pleasing little film to spend time with, Heartbreaker is well worth seeing when it screens again today (4/25) and tomorrow (4/26), as part of the Tribeca Film Festival.