What woman could resist a sweet-talking Frenchman? Evidently, very few. French filmgoers have already swooned in their millions over 'L'arnacoeur' aka Heartbreaker (1.7m admissions in just the first weekend) which sees Romain Duris as a professional home-wrecker who aims to seduce a bride-to-be played by Vanessa Paradis. On the face of it, Alex is a cynical character, but the real joy of the film is in Duris' sympathetic interpretation. He's perhaps best known for a passionate turn in drama The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2007) and brings just as much heart to this comedy.
Morocco is the first in a series of glamorous locations. Alex makes it clear from the outset that he'll only offer his services in situations where a relationship has become destructive. His first target is a woman whose low self-esteem sees her unable to break away from her unfaithful man and she instantly falls for Alex, posing as a bleeding-heart aid worker. The way he throws himself into the role - surrounding himself with underprivileged children and shedding a tear for their plight - is funny without being mocking. Much of that is down to Duris' own childlike appeal.
It's his fun-loving nature that draws in his next mark Juliette (an enigmatic Paradis) though she resists initially, taking her vow to marry gosh-darn lovely Englishman Jonathan (Andrew Lincoln) very seriously. Jonathan is everything her father (Jacques Frantz) might wish for - an actual philanthropist - but he's concerned that Jonathan is stifling her once free spirit. So, Juliette faces the classic dilemma: Nice Guy vs. Fun Guy. Alex certainly livens things up, including a brilliant re-enactment of the last dance from Dirty Dancing, which just happens to be her favourite film. Though Alex is manipulating her, the scene is poignant because it's clear he's falling for her too.
Director Pascal Chaumeil gets the balance of comedy and drama just right, never making jokes at the expense of real feeling. There also seems to be a genuine affection between the leads and the script reveals past hurts for both characters that brings added depth to their romance. Clever writing also means that, although Alex appears to have the upper hand, he is not in full control of the situation. For his part, Duris undercuts the cocky exterior with a touch of goofiness (he's deft at physical comedy) and there are quieter moments too when he is forced to think about the choices he has made which keep him from living life to the fullest.
The question of whether to let loose or buckle down becomes a more intriguing one for Alex because he feels trapped by having to put on this carefree front. Supporting players Julie Ferrier and François Damiens do a great job of mirroring his doubts playing his sister and her husband who run the surveillance part of the operation. Damiens plays the fool too. He has one of the standout comedy moments facing off with Héléna Noguerra as Juliette's nymphomaniac pal who sneaks into Alex's room and threatens to spoil the mission. It might feel a little bit too cute at times, but there is rarely a dull moment. Working Title are already set to do the English remake, but it's hard to imagine anyone but Duris whispering those sweet nothings.
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