With a prolific body of work behind him, Ben Stiller has always been one of those reliable comedy actors who works best with a partner-(or two)-in-crime. His ensemble efforts (Dodgeball, Zoolander, Tropic Thunder) have always been better than his single-handed jobs (Along Came Polly, Night at the Museum) although there are clearly exceptions to the rule (Envy, Starsky and Hutch). Heartbreak Kid marks something of an exception in the other direction - it is an out-and-out Ben Stiller vehicle which, whilst far from perfect, is actually pretty good.
Eddie is a 40 year old bachelor who is really feeling the pressure to get hitched. Whether hearing the sexual crudities from his dad or the henpecked enthusiasms of his best friend, and after the disaster of going to his ex-girlfriend's wedding, he is simply desperate to get married. A chance encounter with feisty blonde Lila soon sees him fast-tracking his way into a marriage - with everything seeming perfect for the two of them. It all starts to go wrong on the honeymoon however, as all the cracks start to show and Lila turns out to be not at all the girl that Eddie thought he was marrying. Whilst trying to survive their time together he happens across the gorgeous Miranda, a sweet family girl on a break from her boyfriend, and before long he is dashing back and forth between the wife he no longer loves and the new girl who he is falling in love with, but who knows nothing about his being married - let alone on honeymoon. It is a recipe for comedic disaster.
A remake of a 1970s Cybill Shepherd movie, with contributions from half a dozen writers and under the command of the deviant Farrelly Brothers, Heartbreak Kid still manages to be quite a refreshing, engaging comedy. Sure the comedy could have done with a better title (either of the working titles would have been significantly more appropriate - Seven Day Itch, Damned if I Do), Ben Stiller has either forgotten his hair dye or had it dyed a little too grey, and a few of the characters cross the line from energetic to just plain irritating (as with any Farrelly comedy) but overall this is one of their better offerings - well at least certainly one of their more mature ones. Dumb and Dumber was just plain dumb fun, Kingpin didn't quite work, There's Something About Mary was their most popular, Me, Myself and Irene had its moments, Shallow Hal was uncomfortably funny, Stuck on You even more so, and - after the disappointing remake of the Brit comedy Fever Pitch - they finally arrived at Heartbreak Kid, which carries quite a nice romantic narrative and populates it with some outstanding comic moments and some standard gross-out shocks.
Stiller - in between a couple of money-orientated sequels - has pulled off two solid comedies: Tropic Thunder and this movie. He still has what it takes, even if his ribs look a little odd and he is getting visibly older, he pulls off the victim role well - once again. Opposite him we have two decent female contributors, Malin Akerman (the sexy chica from the soon-to-be-classic upcoming Watchmen graphic novel adaptation) offers up a b-movie variation on what would have been a Cameron Diaz role and the gorgeous Michelle Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Gone Baby Gone) provides the genuinely sweet love interest. Both are convincing (Akerman almost too much so) in their requisite roles as high maintenance borderline psychotic versus girl-next-door mother-of-my-child. Stiller's dad, Jerry, is one of those aforementioned irritating participants (I always find him irritating in Stiller's movies - especially Zoolander), here playing his character's dad, Danny McBride (Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express) pulls off another great angry performance as the protective family member and we even get a cameo from that sexy Mexican chica Eva Mendes (Desperate Housewives)
The biggest plus of this comedy, however, is the story itself. Not quite as wacky an adventure as the Farrelly Brothers usually embark on (there are no conjoint twins, midgets with martial arts training, people with split personalities or so forth), instead we have quite a contemplative, genuine affair focussing on the risks of settling (especially for somebody you don't know that well) and the hope of true love out there, together with the pressures of friends and family that are mounted exponentially as the years go by. Sure, the scenario, the characters and the trouble that they get into are all over-the-top, but not so much so that you cannot relate to some of the aspects presented here - something which is normally, at least in their other films, overwhelmed by the Farrelly's standard gross-out, often surreal antics. Here they still spark the movie up with shock moments, but nominally in context and never so much so that it tears the viewer away from the characters that are being developed. The end result may not be perfect, but it is laugh-out-loud funny, accessible and engaging, and is one of the most underrated comedies that I have come across recently.
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