At first glance, “Heartbreaker,” the first feature from French director Pascal Chaumeil, seems like another stale Hollywood romantic comedy. But the film is everything that recent Hollywood romantic comedies aren’t and everything they’re trying to be — romantic and funny.


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Romain Duris (“The Spanish Apartment”) stars as Alex Lippi, an expert seducer who professionally breaks up relationships in which the women are “unknowingly unhappy.” Alex is hired by a millionaire, whose daughter Juliette (Vanessa Paradis, “Girl on the Bridge”) is set to marry a rich Englishman. He only has 10 days to break up the couple, who seem to be blissfully in love.

While the plot is convoluted and ridiculous, it’s one of the movie’s only flaws. The outline of the story is somewhat preposterous, but the heart of the movie is brilliant. It’s by turns hilarious and tender, moving seamlessly between the two thanks to an exceptional script and stellar acting.

Duris gives a nuanced performance that accentuates the depth of his character. Alex is easily charming, disarmingly handsome and sophisticated, but he’s not the archetypal macho hero.

Unlike most male characters in romantic comedies, he has a sense of humor about himself; while the film emphasizes his suaveness, it also pokes fun at it, making him more emotionally relatable.

Also, in a refreshing derivation from romantic comedy convention, he is as vulnerable, or possibly more so, than his female counterpart. And though his profession, which involves learning intimate information about women so that he can seduce them and break up their relationships, sounds sleazy and misogynistic, he is actually doing his clients a service: He “wakes them up,” making them realize they aren’t happy in their relationships and that they deserve better.

The rest of the characters in “Heartbreaker” are equally likeable and wonderfully portrayed. Paradis’s Juliette is beautiful, but also refined and independent, which is uncommon among female characters in the movies these days. And Lippi’s colleagues, sister and brother-in-law are excellent, bringing levity and humor to all their scenes without being gimmicky.

While “Heartbreaker” is a huge departure from the modern romantic comedy, it is still, through and through, a part of the genre. But rather than try too hard to be something it’s not, the film embraces its place in cinema. Despite containing things that on the surface seem incredibly cheesy (for example, a reenactment of the famous dancing scene from “Dirty Dancing”), the characters are so engaging and their relationships so authentic that the movie is never sappy or forced.

The film maintains a rapid pace, and much of it plays more like an action film than a romantic comedy. There are “Ocean’s Eleven”-style heist sequences, complete with tapped phones and hidden-camera surveillance. There’s even a gangster-type moneylender to whom Alex owes money and the occasional car chase. With so much going on in the movie, it sometimes feels contrived, but its constant energy keeps it entertaining and fun throughout.

“Heartbreaker” is anything but realistic. The film takes place among the ritzy hotels and opulent beaches of Monaco, and the people are wealthy, posh and beautiful. But the film tends toward class and elegance, partly due to the beautiful cinematography, which expertly captures the beauty of the setting and the people.

The film is never overly sentimental or melodramatic. Even among the artificial setting, the emotions are realistic and never overdone. “Heartbreaker” is a rare thing in contemporary popular cinema; a sensitive, expressive and entertaining film, representing what romantic comedies should be.

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