The Heartbreak Kid is a remake (sort of) of Elaine May’s 1972 film, which was scripted by none other than Neil Simon. The original starred Charles Grodin as a young man who falls in love with Cybill Shepherd while on his honeymoon with another woman. The new version has Ben Stiller in the Grodin role, and filmmaking sibs Peter and Bobby Farrelly behind the camera. That factoid alone should be enough to clue you into the fact that the new Heartbreak Kid is tonally different from the original in some serious ways.
Stiller plays Eddie Cantrow, a San Francisco sporting goods store owner who is 40 and unmarried. His father (Jerry Stiller) and best friend (Rob Corddry) give him no end of grief about his fear of commitment. So when he meets young, sexy, vivacious Lila (Malin Akerman), Eddie decides to throw caution to the wind and propose marriage a few weeks later. No sooner do they leave for their honeymoon than he starts to wonder what he got into. Lila demonstrates some personality quirks – some bizarre, some annoying, some both. It’s as though “someone flipped a switch” in her and she’s become unbearable.
While at a resort in Cabo, Eddie meets Miranda (Michelle Monaghan) – also pretty and energetic, but also much more normal. A connection forms between the two, and Eddie starts to think that this is the girl he should be with. Since he can’t exactly tell her that he’s married, he tries to hide that fact until he can figure out a way to break it off with Lila. The longer he holds out, the more he falls for Miranda.
There are really two different approaches you can take with this material. The first is to make a very astute human comedy that is rooted in emotional truth – a story about one man’s inner confusion when he meets the woman of his dreams after he gets married and can’t decide what to do about it. The other approach is to make a very broad comedy that runs from punch line to punch line – one that’s more interested in the joke than in the emotion. The original Heartbreak Kid took the former route, while this remake takes the latter.
So which approach is the better one? Surely it’s the first. That’s because the premise is, at its core, realistic. It seems well-suited to a film that wants to explore genuine romantic confusion. Tossing that aside in favor of raunchy jokes and mile-a-minute punch lines just seems like a waste. After all, if you want to make a broad comedy, why choose source material that is the exact opposite of that? And this is where a lot of critics and film buffs are going to kill the new Heartbreak Kid. They will ask (rightfully) what the point is in remaking a good film using an inherently inferior approach. I don’t disagree with that, but I will make the argument that that version of the movie has already been made. If the Farrelly Brothers were going to remake it, why not take a different track? Admittedly, the brothers are at their best (i.e. Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary) when their screenplays are just slightly removed from reality. It is in this zone that their penchant for outrageous humor seems most at home. Cramming it into this particular story is an awkward fit at best.
Yet I can’t deny one simple fact: I laughed a lot at this movie. No, I never really believed (or cared too much about) Eddie’s romantic complications. They didn’t feel real to me, they felt like a sitcom contrivance, especially when the last quarter of the film revolves around the kind of stereotypical “misunderstanding” that used to fuel every episode of “Three’s Company.” But I think what Peter and Bobby Farrelly have done is to take the original film’s plot and use it as a hook on which to hang some very funny jokes about marital discord. The idea of a young, sexy woman who proves to be incessantly annoying and neurotic is a solid basis for some observational comedy. In essence, Eddie does what a lot of guys do sooner or later: he focuses solely on the exterior. He looks at Lila and sees her blonde hair, her pretty face, her sexy body, and he thinks that will make him happy. Only when forced to look beyond those surface things does he realize that any person – male or female – needs a full-blooded partner to be feel completely satisfied in a relationship. Having an object of desire simply isn’t enough. When Miranda comes along and shows him what he really requires, it snaps Eddie into reality.
This idea – adapted from the original movie’s theme – is what I liked about The Heartbreak Kid. And man, are there some hysterical jokes springing from this premise. The comedy has not one but two of the funniest sex scenes I’ve watched in a long time as Eddie has some trouble adjusting to Lila’s extremely freaky side. Many of her weird tics generate laughs as well; check out the montage of her singing along to the car radio. Some of the most outrageous moments don’t flow quite as naturally -such as a scene that involves a jellyfish attack and an unusual body piercing - but they cracked me up anyway.
Of course, the fact remains that no comedian does the whole “frustrated and exasperated” bit better than Ben Stiller, and no one – Judd Apatow aside – mixes raunchiness and sweetness as effectively as the Farrelly Brothers. I also liked Malin Akerman as Lila. I’ve seen her in bit parts before, but in this picture, she comes off like a next-gen Cameron Diaz, all dizzy and bouncy and blonde. Most of the funny parts of the movie involver her and Stiller; the scenes between Stiller and Monaghan are more about trying to give all the raunchy jokes some semblance of a human center. At nearly two hours, The Heartbreak Kid wears out its welcome just a bit; this would have been a better movie at 90 minutes. Despite this and some other flaws, I still recommend the movie for what it is: a laugh machine.
( out of four)
The Heartbreak Kid is rated R for strong sexual content, crude humor and language. The running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: The Heartbreak Kid
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