2 September 2012
So. School started. I’m wrung out.
The semester always begins that way — I say to myself, “This semester I’ll take great notes for all my lectures so next year I won’t have to reconstruct when I teach this again!” but in the end I just barely make it to class with an outline in mind, some loosely organized PowerPoint slides, and the plan that if I run out of material I’ll improvise. Granted, this works surprisingly well for me (I’ve done this for a while now). But after a week, I’m already tired and annoyed with myself, and there remain 14 more weeks of this semester’s madness.
Now it’s Saturday, and I have found Pascal Chaumeil’s rom-com Heartbreaker (L’arnacoeur) streaming on Netflix. Make some popcorn.
It always helps, I say, if our hero is scruffy and not classically handsome — and I already liked Romain Duris from the dark, brooding The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté, 2005). I wouldn’t have guessed he had such a knack for goofy, quick-witted and physical humor; watching him try to make himself cry is a kind of screwball comedy we need more often. Even better that the film also includes Julie Ferrier (whom I liked so much in Micmacs) as his sister/ assistant and François Damiens as her goofy techie husband. Not to mention Vanessa Paradis. Perhaps I’ve mentioned before how much I love women with diastema, that gap between their front teeth?
Alex (Duris) gets paid to encourage women to leave their loser boyfriends. Typically hired by the woman’s friends or parents, his job is to persuade her that she can find someone better — by assuming the part of such a man, temporarily, in a way that allows him to exit gracefully as she happily and confidently dumps said loser. To be precise, his job is not to break anyone’s heart, but to give women the final push to get out of nowhere relationships.
Ordinarily he wouldn’t have taken on the case of Juliette (Paradis), who doesn’t seem unhappy in the least. Nor is she engaged to a loser: her wealthy British fiancé adores her. Figuring out why her father is so eager to get her free proves part of Alex’s job. Plus he really, really needs the money.
How to get her to notice him? He doesn’t have a lot to go on — their intel is missing some crucial parts of her life — so they focus on what they’ve got. Alex feigns great love of two bits of the 1980s pop canon she loves so much: the Wham! song “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” and the musical dramedy cheesefest, Dirty Dancing (1987).
Now, who’s going to turn up their nose at Wham! and Dirty Dancing?
Maybe it’s because the action is so quick, the English-language soundtrack so gleefully retro, and the story so tight, Heartbreaker seems like the first French rom-com I’ve ever seen that feels — well, American. Except it’s better than most American rom-coms. Not that I watched with much of a critical eye — hey, I was lucky to stay awake through the whole thing — but lemme tell ya, friends: if you, too, are in need of Saturday popcorn theater, this is where to turn.
Granted, Paradis isn’t given a lot to work with. As Juliette, she’s smarter than Alex and often far ahead of him; primarily she’s a tough nut for him to crack. So much so, indeed, that she makes him wonder whether trying to break her from her fiancé is the wrong thing to do. But every once in a while her stern, skinny visage breaks into something else, like when she allows herself to break character and sings along, indulgently, to George Michael’s Wham! … and thus we start to feel that inexorable attraction between them.
Watching Heartbreaker made me 1) download the soundtrack from iTunes, 2) put every single Romain Duris film on my Netflix queue, and 3) start paying much closer attention to France’s production of rom-coms. I’m only sorry not to have another popcorn-y film lined up for tonight’s viewing.
Particularly one with songs like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and the eminently corny “The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing. Maybe I’ll just watch Heartbreaker all over again. Why don’t you join me?