A film review by Craig J. Koban
THE HEARTBREAK KID
2007, R, 116 mins.
2007, R, 116 mins.
Eddie Cantrow: Ben Stiller / Lila: Malin Akerman / Miranda:
Michelle Monaghan / Eddie's father: Jerry Stiller / Mac:
Rob Corddry / Uncle Tito: Carlos Mencia / Lila's mom: Kathy
"Love is the delightful interval between meeting a beautiful girl and discovering that she looks like a haddock."
- John Barrymore
I am a rabid Farrelly brothers apologist. Whereas some have been mortified by the lewd and crude content of their films, I have a sort of perverse admiration and fondness for their efforts. I think that the key to appreciating their films is realizing that subtlety and restraint have no place in their work. They tackle subject matter and characters that no other comedic directors would touch with a ten foot pole. They don't take the easy route for a laugh; their comedies have included the morbidly obese, schizophrenics, the mentally challenged, albinos, amputees, the Amish, conjoined twins, and - in their latest effort - a man that falls in love with a woman...on his honeymoon.
What they do - and do better than just about anyone - is to stretch the normal and common boundaries of taste and political correctness and fuse those crass elements with stories and characters that you care for and relate to. That’s what makes their comedies rise well above the tawdry level of disgusting gross out spectacles: They provide characters that we can identify with and put them on an endless parade of set pieces that not only border on the socially awkward, but hurtle right past that designation and into riotously embarrassing. They never mock their oftentimes physically and mentally handicapped personas and laugh at them; instead, they laugh with them.
The Farrellys completely recalibrated the comedy genre in the 1990's and whether or not it was for the better is up in the air. They certainly made two of the funniest films of that decade in 1996's KINGPIN (which dealt with an Amish bowler) and their landmark work, 1998's THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (which dealt with a series of oddball characters pining for the affection of Cameron Diaz). Both films were boldly vulgar and coarse and helped to define the "gross out comedy" genre, one that, unfortunately, has spawned countless lesser imitators. Moments in those films were sickening, but hilariously so, perhaps because they occurred at the expense of characters that we liked. Who could forget an infamous moment in KINGPIN where the hapless Woody Harrelson thought he was drinking milk from a cow that he just milked only to subsequently realize that he got it from another animal altogether. And then there was one of the most mortifying - and categorically funny - sight gags in movie history that occurred in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY when Cameron Diaz grabbed what she thought was hair gel off of Ben Stiller’s ear, only to be revealed to the audience that the "gel" was another bodily substance entirely.
All of this helps me build towards THE HEARTBREAK KID, which marks the re-teaming of MARY star Ben Stiller and the Farrelly brothers. To say that the film has a considerably amount of expectations is legitimate (MARY has be lauded as the film that launched the careers of its star and directors, not to mention that it still remains one of the funniest films of the last ten years). Maybe not PHANTOM MENACED sized exceptions, but strong ones nevertheless. After viewing THE HEARTBREAK KID it is certain that it does not rank among the Farrellys' best efforts, nor is it even close to being the finest, side-splitting comedy of the year (that honor goes to SUPERBAD and KNOCKED UP), but it still has enough genuine big laughs, naughty spectacle (refreshingly, the film is very appropriately rated R, a content zone that the Farrellys seem very adept at), and sometimes shocking scatological shenanigans to savor.
If the film’s premise seems familiar then that’s because it's based on the original 1972 film of the same name directed by Elaine May, written by Neil Simon, and starring Charles Grodin, Jeannie Berlin, and Cybill Shepherd. That film - voted number 91 on the AFI’s list of the greatest screen comedies - was a romantic black comedy that followed a Jewish New Yorker and newlywed (Grodin) who meets and tries to woe a beautiful blonde bombshell (Shepherd) all while being on his honeymoon.
The Farrelly version maintains the same basic plot, but this time it changes locations (the Florida beaches for Mexico) and the man hooks up with the blonde first and marries her and then falls for a more conservatively attractive woman on his honeymoon. The very troubled young man is played by Stiller, who is an unmitigated master of playing ordinary men plagued by situations that can be socially paralyzing. Stiller plays a San Francisco sporting goods store owner Eddie Cantrow, who begins the film as a hopeless single. His father (played very humorously by Stiller’s real-life dad, Jerry Stiller) has long aspirations that his son will get "some tail". Eddie’s best friend, Mac (Rob Corddry, also very funny in a bit part) also seems to put a bit of pressure on his buddy to start looking for that special someone to spend the rest of his life with.
One fateful day Eddie has a meet cute with a blonde goddess from above named Lila (played by real life goddess and future WATCHMAN star, Malin Akerman) who is assisted by Eddie in dealing with a purse snatcher. The two hit it off and Eddie seems really drawn to Lila’s physical beauty and her all around soft spoken kindness. Initially, she seems like a real winner that any man would want to spend the rest of his life with. Unfortunately, Eddie finds out from her that her research job wants to move her to Germany and only a "marriage" could convince her bosses to keep her in San Francisco. Eddie then goes into crisis mode and tries to decide whether he should take the plunge and marry this woman. With the help of his dad and best friend, he decides to propose and the two get married.
Things start to go south really fast right after they exchange vows. Eddie meets Lila’s mother at the wedding, who clocks in at what appears to be 300 pounds (the joke here is that Lila’s wedding dress once fit her mother, meaning that Lila could also physically deteriorate fast). Then the two drive to their Mexican honeymoon spot and Lila because irritatingly overbearing and obnoxious as she sings literally to every song on the radio. Then there is the sex that - to Eddie’s horror - is anything but pleasant and magical. Lila is such a screaming, contorting, S&M control freak in bed, using perverse techniques that Eddie has never even thought of. One scene in the film showing their lovemaking has to be one of the funniest sex scenes in along time, where Lila berates Eddie to thrust harder to the point where he is going so fast that it appears that someone has hit "fast forward" on a remote control. The next morning she is shown sleeping soundly, whereas he is on a chair, rocking back and forth, all while assuming the fetal position.
It gets worse.
Eddie then finds out that Lila lied and is actually unemployed, is thousands of dollars in debt, was a former cocaine addict, and now has a deviated septum as a result of her drug taking (the Farrellys milk this problem for a lot of comic mileage). To make matters even worse, Lila gets an unbearably bad sunburn when she refuses to use any sun block. Redder than an apple and with huge boils all over her body, Lila demands to be left alone and Eddie begins to stroll the beaches of Mexico in an effort to re-think his life-long commitment to his now crazy wife.
It’s at this point when he meets up with a cute vacationer named Miranda (Michelle Monaghan) who is with her entire family. Slowly, Eddie begins to discover that he has more in common with her and her family than he will ever have with Lila. He soon starts to fall for Miranda, which boils down to an inevitable showdown between Lila, Miranda, and himself, which includes - in order - him being attack by a sea creature, Lila publicly urinating on the wound on his back from the creature, Miranda’s shock and quick trip back to the states, and Eddie’s many failed attempts to cross the border back to the US with illegal Mexican immigrants in order to get back the woman he loves.
There is a lot of amusing material here in THE HEARTBREAK KID and the performances are key. I especially liked Jerry Stiller playing Eddie’s sex abscessed father, who has a very funny moment where he has to give back Lila a pair of her panties that went missing. Rob Corddry is equally amusing as Eddie’s friend, especially in one scene where Eddie seems to be indirectly criticized at another couples’ wedding and later in a moment where he reveals his bangs growing out. Ben Stiller, of course, is on auto-pilot playing an everyman doofus that is faced with insurmountably awkward situations that impede his happiness, but he does it so well (his most hilarious moment occurs while he is trying to break up with Lila and maliciously berates a musical Mexican quartet that are attempting to serenade the two; his comic ferocity here is inspired). Then there is Malin Akerman, who has the difficult task of playing a part that begins by being down to earth and charming and then disintegrates into depravity and vile animosity. The fact that she makes the transition so smoothly is a testament to her performance. She is a real trouper here.
Of course, this is also a Farrelly brothers effort and no effort on their part was spared with going for broke with scenes and sight gags of shocking grotesqueness. One scene in particular rivals a similar one in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY for shock value (the moment where Stiller reveals to the camera what male part he got caught in his zipper) where Lila reveals a vital and much talked about portion of her anatomy. The Farrellys are undisputedly at their best when they amalgamate squirm-inducing raunch with affable characters. For the most part, this hybrid formula bares successful fruition in THE HEARTBREAK KID. If the film has a fault then it would be that its crassness and luridness is not as cutting edge as it was ten years ago in MARY. Certainly, the brothers were undeniable forerunners in this department, but moments in THE HEARTBREAK KID never titillate or wallop viewers over the heads as forcefully as similar scenes in their best films. As a lowbrow, R-rated romp of sleazy spectacle, the film is certainly entertaining, but just not as fresh and as corruptly endearing as KINGPIN or MARY.
The there is the film’s final act, which shows Stiller morphing into a grizzled bandit trying to illegally get back into the US and when he meets back up with Miranda it's more creepy than funny. The film's attempts here at being a dark, black comedy are misfires. Yet, in the end, THE HEARTBREAK KID overcomes its deficiencies by being yet another dependably funny Farrelly brother comedy that has an undercurrent of sweetness amidst all of its obscene guffaws. Like their other films, I admired the Farrellys' gutsy showmanship and lack of refinement with the material, which is often a detriment, not a virtue. Perhaps this is no more indicative than in the final moment in the film, which paradoxically is both a rosy, happily ever after ending and one that drips with dark irony and gloom. Only in a Farrelly comedy could the final words of the hero be "F- - k me."