The Heartbreak Kid
Farrelly Brothers dig through Neil Simon’s trash for inspiration
By Devin D. O’Leary
The Heartbreak Kid
Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Cast: Ben Stiller, Malin Akerman, Michelle Monaghan
Ever wonder what would happen if you combined Neil Simon and The Farrelly Brothers? Yeah, me neither. Regardless, The Heartbreak Kid is a remake of a 1972 Neil Simon comedy retooled by the dirty-minded siblings who gave us There's Something About Mary. The result, as can reasonably be expected, is a mixed bag in which the highbrow and the lowbrow combine to form a style that can only be called monobrow.
Ben Stiller takes over for Charles Grodin as Eddie Cantrow (Grodin played the far more Jewish “Lenny Cantrow” in the original), a loveless 40-year-old San Fran businessman who is pressured at every turn to get married. One of the film’s more anachronistic holdovers is the idea that all men, particularly 40-year-old bachelors, are just itching to get hitched. One day, our boy Eddie bumps into Lila, an attractive and outgoing gal (Malin Ackerman, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle). With his biological clock ticking (or whatever), Eddie proposes marriage after only a few weeks.
The film’s real plot mechanics kick into gear while our newlyweds are on their honeymoon in Mexico. There, Eddie discovers--much to his horror--that his wife is a two-for-one special: both annoying and crazy. To make matters worse, Eddie meets an even more attractive and outgoing gal named Miranda (Michelle Monaghan, Mission: Impossible III) at their beachside resort. Eddie falls instantly in love and romances this new love-at-first-sight while neglecting to mention his matrimonial state and avoiding his wife like the plague.
Yeah, The Heartbreak Kid doesn’t have a particularly sympathetic storyline. Neither did the original. But at least in the 1972 version, when Charles Grodin dumped his boring Jewish wife for rich WASP Cybill Shepherd, you got the impression the guy was trying, for the first time, to break out of his sheltered cultural worldview. Gone are issues of ethnic assimilation and class difference. Here, our main character just seems like a indecisive jerk. Initially, Eddie’s biggest complaint about his wife seems to be that she enjoys enthusiastic and energetic sex. (Yeah, what guy wants that?) Stiller seems to have a knack for playing ordinary Joes who slowly transform into unlikable aggro monsters, and he continues the tradition here.
There are a few stabs at the Farrellys’ trademark rude humor. There’s plenty of nudity, sexual shenanigans and a particularly shocking and egregious use of body jewelry. Granted, there are enough genuinely funny moments scattered throughout to keep audience members going ’til the end credits. A running gag about Eddie’s ability to lie off the top of his head is clever stuff. But much of the humor seems out of place, tacked on to Simon’s original script in a forced attempt to be outrageous. (Why, for example, are there so many jokes about things coming out of or going into people’s nostrils?) Eddie’s dad Jerry Stiller (playing, appropriately enough, Eddie’s dad) tries to liven things up, but he’s saddled with the generally thankless role of “old dude with a really foul mouth.”
The Heartbreak Kid is a romantic comedy; but it’s difficult to label the film “romantic.” Most of it is awfully uncomfortable and unsympathetic. If the filmmakers had a bit more conviction, they could have turned it into an extremely dark comedy, full of hilariously awful behavior (think Dirty Rotten Scoundrels mixed with Bad Santa). Instead, we get a mildly smart film filled with stupid people and a smattering of profane jokes. Better luck next time, bros.
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