‘Heartbreakers’ as Homage to Classic Comedy

It seems like whenever I walk into a romantic comedy, low expectations prove to be a man’s best friend. Maybe I’m just jaded when it comes to romance or there’s something sickeningly sweet about the pre-packaged Hollywood ending we all know his coming before the opening credits start rolling, but whatever it is, there’s nothing more frustrating for me than a romantic comedy. But it’s not fair to say that all rom-coms are created equal. The fact of the matter is they aren’t. I mean, in terms of structure and attention-starved (and sometimes, literally starved) actresses, they tend to share a frightening number of similarities, but that just makes it that much better when you see something besides the regurgitated guy meets girl story.

Surprisingly enough, Heartbreakers is one of those movies. For those of you who have forgotten the Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sigourney Weaver movie that was relegated to the forgotten ranks of every other Jennifer Love Hewitt movie, it’s actually a charming movie. It follows a mother and daughter con team, going for one last big score before Paige strikes out on her own. Of course, per romantic comedy standard complications, Paige finds herself falling for her target. Things get even messier when their past catches up with them in the form of a previous mark and another rich target croaks, leaving them with a corpse on their hands.

You’ll notice that throughout all of these descriptions, I’ve never described heartbreakers as “new” or “original.” The fact of the matter is, it really isn’t. It’s a mess of re-hashed plots from better movies, but there’s something about the movie that makes it work. I think what impressed me about it was that it never seems to try to be its own movie. For the most part, it seems content re-using plot devices from screwball classics and trite romantic comedies. Rather than feeling cheated, it works more as an homage to the days of physical comedy. I mean, it’s undeniably modern and makes use of a relatively contemporary setting, but the comedy itself is so classic.

Then again, I think this particular brand of comedy is what sold me on otherwise standard fare in Heartbreakers. There’s such dedication to the physicality of the comedy. There are pratfalls and other classic screwball gags that require a lot from both actresses. There aren’t enough actresses willing to do that kind of physical comedy or there aren’t enough writers who are still willing to write physical comedy, I’m not sure which. Either way, it’s such an essential part of the charm of Heartbreakers. It stands as a tribute to the comediennes that are often overlooked in screwball history.

But it’s difficult to discuss the strengths of each actress, without giving the actresses themselves credit. Jennifer Love Hewitt actually brings a lot of charm to the role, but not your typical bubbly role for her. She’s got a sort of caustic charm, paired with an acerbic wit. It’s definitely something I never expected Jennifer Love Hewitt to be able to pull off, but the real appeal of the movie is easily Sigourney Weaver. She plays the type of matriarch you’d expect from a woman who looks as fantastic at her age as she does. She sells sex with such ease, but it’s her seamless transition to comedy that proves her to be an indispensable asset to the movie. The two together have a chemistry that wreaks of a history of dysfunction and neglect. While it could easily stray down the path of maudlin and melodramatic, Heartbreakers uses its powers for good and works to create a hilarious, screwball comedy for a younger audience.

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