The Heartbreak Kid

The Heartbreak Kid

****

Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

I'm a huge fan of the Farrelly brothers, but it can't be denied they've got a lot to answer for. Since they virtually invented the gross-out comedy genre with Dumb and Dumber, barely a week has gone by without a new addition offering even more disgusting variations on the theme.

Almost without exception they rely solely on animal sex/physical deformity/hyperactive bodily functions/all of the above for laughs, with none of the sharp one-liners, surreal touches or genuine affection for the characters that made There's Something About Mary such a delight. But the Brothers Gross themselves have had a few misfires in recent years and young(er) turks like Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen have been stealing their thunder somewhat of late. Add in the fact that this is the Farellys' first stab at a remake (rarely a good thing in comedy, which even more than other genres tends to be a thing of its time) and you can see why I approached this one with some trepidation.

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Well, it's nice to be wrong sometimes. This film sees the brothers right back on TSAM form but ringing a few changes and even making the odd serious point - in between the physical deformity, animal sex etc... In fact, you could almost say they're growing up a bit. Certainly the opening scene, where the credits play over two guys walking along a street shooting the breeze about life and love in general, could be from When Harry Met Sally or even the work of the godfather of the cerebral New York romcom, Woody Allen. But the setting is San Francisco and the two guys are 40-something sports shop owner Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller) and his libidinous dad (Jerry Stiller, Ben's real-life father, probably best known over here for playing Frank Costanza in Seinfeld), who tells him, in no uncertain terms, to get stuck in before it's too late.

A wedding dinner scene from hell convinces Eddie that father knows best, and fate provides the chance to rescue a beautiful woman from a mugging. Lila (Malin Akerman) is a passionate, free-spirited blonde bombshell and a whirlwind romance ensues.

Egged on by his dad and henpecked best mate Mac (Rob Corddry), Eddie decides to take the plunge. And here's where things get interesting. Having essentially got to the closing scene of your traditional romcom inside half an hour (complete with a radiant Cameron Diaz lookalike bride) the Farrellys take great delight in tearing it all apart. Lila is gradually revealed to be somewhat irritating and decidedly flaky, with a passion for rough sex, a closet factory's worth of skeletons and a deviated septum (without going into the gory details, things get in and out of her nose with considerable ease and frequency). Repenting at leisure even before their dream honeymoon in Mexico is over, Eddie seeks refuge in the bar and meets Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), a regular gal from Mississippi at the resort with her family to see Mom and Dad renew their vows. Realising he's met Ms Right as opposed to Ms Right Now, Eddie takes advantage of Lila's sunburn-enforced confinement to romance Miranda.

The film then becomes a razor-sharp farce, as Eddie digs himself in ever deeper and the audience prepares itself for the moment when everything crashes around him. The spirit of Neil Simon looms very large here (as does that of Bruce Jay Friedman, the veteran novelist and screenwriter who wrote the original short story, A Change Of Plan) and one can imagine Stiller's sympathetic but somewhat spineless schmuck being played by Jack Lemmon or Tony Randall in a glossy ring-a-ding-ding Sixties version.

But the original was made in 1972 and was a darker affair altogether. Charles Grodin's 'hero' trades his homely brunette wife for Cybill Shepherd's WASP sex goddess in a pretty caddish manner and his family turn against him. The reversal of the two female types in the remake does say something about Hollywood's change in attitudes over the years - Lila's an environmental volunteer with a penchant for ethnic earrings, so she must be a flake, right? But the Farrellys steer clear of making her a totally caricatured harpy. In fact, once again their sympathy for all the protagonists is something that marks them out from most of their peers.

And there is a genuine grown-up point to be made in all this - that sometimes initial attraction is just that, and that if you can't forgive someone's faults you probably shouldn't be with them. None of this is too laboured (and there's a joyously mischievous twist at the end) but it's undoubtedly the Farellys' most mature and well-rounded piece so far. One could argue that Stiller's done this hapless Everynerd act once too often, and no Mexican stereotype is left unturned. But if it's PC social realism you're after a Farelly Brothers film has never been the best place to look. If, on the other hand, you want a masterclass in simultaneously turning the stomach and warming the heart, there's still something about them.

Reviewed on: 02 Oct 2007
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A newly married man meets the girl of his dreams.
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Read more The Heartbreak Kid reviews:

Stephen Carty ****

Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly

Writer: Scot Armstrong, Leslie Dixon

Starring: Ben Stiller, Michelle Monaghan, Jerry Stiller, Malin Akerman, Carlos Mencia, Rob Corddry

Year: 2007

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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