My 100 Favourite Films In Review, Number 88 – Heartbreakers

88 – Heartbreakers:

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So are y’all happy now? After skirting around the comedy genre with Seeking A Friend For The End of the World and Pride & Prejudice, now I have a pure comedy on my list. This one also does not star Keira Knightley. Even back in my teenage years when I was against all comedies, I loved this film. I’ve continued to love it over the years. It’s actually one that doesn’t seem to be that well-known, despite a stellar cast. You’ve got Sigourney Weaver, Jason Lee, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gene Hackman, Ray Liotta and even an early appearance from Sarah Silverman. Something that’ll surprise you even more is where I got the recommendation. My mother of all people told me I’d love this movie. At the age where I was terrified of being caught even looking at a woman in a short skirt, she recommended a raunchy sex comedy to me. You’re probably thinking about how great my mom must be, and then about how great yours all are (that includes the Mr Moms too; I don’t leave anyone out). But how about we meet a mother who’s not so great?

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Yes, even worse than this one.

We open with a wedding between a woman called Angela (Sigourney Weaver) and Dean (Ray Liotta). They haven’t known each other that long – only about three or four months. But they must have been raised on Disney, because they’re madly in love. Dean has even respected Angela’s wishes to not have sex until their wedding night. He has to wait until it literally is night, due to hundreds of elderly relatives wanting to dance with the bride. When he finally gets her up to the hotel room, she disrobes to show us what only the Xenomorph queen got to see in Alien: Resurrection.

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That lingerie is quite hard to open, so Dean produces a knife to cut her out of it. I have to say that Weaver and Hewitt might be the film’s leads, but Ray Liotta’s Dean is the biggest scene stealer in this film. It’s lucky he disappears for the second act, as he would have overshadowed them completely. Too bad Angela passes out before they can do anything. Dean pours the contents of the ice bucket down his pants in a joke that my teenage self didn’t get for years. The next morning Angela is willing to do some stuff, but she quickly gets an attack of the vomiting bug. Dean says they can save it for the honeymoon – as he has to stop off at the office first. The office is a shady car dealership, so it looks like Dean isn’t the most honest John in the world. As such, we have to wonder if he’s going to be tempted by the sultry secretary Wendy…

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Poor Wendy just seems to be all thumbs today and drops all her paperwork on the floor. And she made the bad mistake to wear such a low cut dress too. And isn’t it unfortunate that she had to compromise herself in front of a man who didn’t get to make love on his wedding night? Dean just can’t resist the forbidden fruit in front of him. And to his horror, Angela walks in on it. Needless to say, it cuts to the two of them getting divorced by a cameo from Carrie Fisher.

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Angela demands one cash payment of $300,000, settled out of court. And when Dean is unreceptive to the idea, Lawyer Leia suggests taking this before a judge. But since Dean’s business isn’t exactly wholesome, a court hearing would put him under scrutiny. So he gives in and lets Angela have anything she wants. We next see Angela pulling up at a gas station. Coincidentally, Wendy arrives there too. Now that’s rather strange.

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Yep, there we have it. ‘Angela’ is really Max Conners and ‘Wendy’ is actually her daughter Paige. Since they immediately trick a poor schmuck into unknowingly paying for their gas, we can guess that ‘Conners’ is a very appropriate last name (but it took me years to get the pun). This is their whole deal; Max marries rich men, while Paige gets them to be unfaithful so the two can clean out in a divorce settlement. Now Paige wants to go out on her own, but Max shows that even con-women can be overprotective parents too. She notably downplays the amount of money they got (telling her the 300k was just 80k) and tells Paige that she’s not ready. She’s concerned that Paige will fall for the first hunk that comes along but then he’ll pull a “conceive and leave” just like her father. Max was lucky to be taken in by a woman called Barbara, who showed her how to con. But Paige feels she’s been taught enough, and Max reluctantly agrees to go to New York and divide up their assets.

But in the Big Apple, they run into a big problem in the form of Gloria Vogel (Anne Bancroft). She’s from the IRS and says that they’ve already seized everything the Conners’ accounts – and are expecting a further $250,000 in the next ninety days. As this leaves the two with only $1300 each, Paige grudgingly agrees to one more con. But she says it has to be big – to both pay off the IRS and set her up on her own. There’s only one place to go: Palm Beach.

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For those who’d like to know, Palm Beach is a swanky area of Florida – where 50% of the residents are rich retired white people. Two years after this film was made, it was listed as America’s Best Place To Live by Robb Report Magazine. With the average income of the area being nearly $110,000 the two will be spoilt for choice over men to con. But they’ll have to tread carefully, as people that rich are bound to be suspicious of gold diggers already. First they’ll need a hotel to stay in. Max gets them a suite by tripping Paige up and making it look like she slipped on water. Hmm earlier they got a free meal by putting glass in the food. I have to wonder if the screenwriter tried all of these tricks individually. Also I wonder how many people tried them for real after the movie came out. Things switch back to Dean, who’s still cut up about his divorce. His boys theorise that he’s depressed because he’s never been dumped by a woman before. He vows to find her and take care of business.

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“Doesn’t have the same impact if you don’t say it over the phone.”

Max and Paige view their list of potential husbands in Palm Beach. The choices are a forty-something doctor with an overbearing mother; a twenty-something playboy who’s into group things; and a really old tobacco baron called William B Tensy. Since Tensy is played by Gene Hackman, he’s the one they go for (though Paige has the doctor in mind too). And now half an hour into the movie, it soon becomes apparent that the wealth of the residents wasn’t the only reason to set things in sunny Palm Beach. Roger Ebert had things to say about that particular subject – suggesting Jennifer Love Hewitt was doing an endorsement for the Wonder Bra.

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Anyway, moving on from the supporting performance of JLH’s breasts, Max and Paige move forward with their first step towards conning Tensy. We get our first real look at the gentleman, and it’s clear that his thing is smoking. When told he isn’t allowed to smoke inside an auction house, his response is to drop the cigarette into someone’s champagne and light up again as soon as he’s sat down. Max is at the auction house too, posing as a Russian belle called Olga. Elsewhere, Paige seems dead set on trying to con the doctor, and goes to a bar she knows he’s heading to. There we’re introduced to Jack, played by Jason Lee. Although this is before My Name Is Earl, Jason Lee had already racked up some cred with his appearances in Kevin Smith films. His two friends in the movie are also played by pre-fame Sarah Silverman and Zack Galfianakis in small parts.

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Making shots like this look as if they’re bugging him for tips.

Jason Lee is usually known for playing rude, foul-mouthed man children. Yet in this movie, full of a bunch of utterly horrible people, he’s actually the sanest character there. So Lee plays things very deadpan and serious in contrast to the other actors camping it up. It works unbelievably well in his first scene with Paige. She assumes he’s hitting on her and goes into a big rant…until she’s informed that he’s the bartender. Max isn’t having much luck herself at the auction house; she ends up accidentally buying a statue for $180k. She thinks on her feet and manages to get the statue’s penis broken off – thus saving her from having to pay up for now. She’s bought herself enough time to go after Tensy in the car. Meanwhile, Paige’s mark arrives and she decides to get his attention with the inherent sexiness of the Heimlich Manoeuvre.

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Too bad for her he’s distracted when his overbearing mother arrives. And even worse is that Paige starts choking for real on the olive. For the worst, Jack saves her and causes her to spit the olive into the doctor’s eye – thus putting the kibosh on any seduction plans. Before she can finish yelling at Jack for thwarting her plans, she gets a call from mom to be at the checkpoint. She goes and lays spikes on the road for Tensy’s tyres to pop – but the car that goes over it isn’t his! It’s Jack, who followed Paige from the bar to give her the purse she left behind. When Tensy’s car does drive around, Paige pushes Jack down a ditch, feigns an ankle injury and then kisses him passionately to stop him from helping. This also means that she’s not there to clear the spikes from the road – so Max’s tyres get popped too. Showing how dedicated she is to her work, she still drives Tensy to the hospital – even if the sparks aren’t flying exactly the way she’d hoped…

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The next morning, Paige realises she once again forgot her purse. So she barges into the bar and asks for it back. Or to be more specific, threatens to “put my heel up your ass” if he doesn’t give it over. It’s only after this little tiff that Sarah Silverman gets a line to explain that Jack actually owns the bar, and the land is worth $3 million. Max meanwhile goes to the hospital to see Tensy and put the moves on him. It works and she ends up heading over to his house wearing – and I paraphrase Roger Ebert again – a dress that enters the room a quarter of an inch after she does.

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Ay Chihuahua, Ms Weaver. The one person who’s not impressed is Ms Madress the housekeeper (Nora Dunne). And after her first lines, Max says to the camera “we have a bitch alert” – which ended up naming a trope over on TV Tropes, something which I am quite proud of if I may say so myself.

Ahem.

Tensy takes Max to a Russian restaurant, which bites her in the ass when the waiter decides to give the specials in a language she doesn’t speak. She ends up ordering steak tartar – which is raw for those who have never dared try it. And I suggest you keep it that way, unless you want your toilet to smell like the Bog of Eternal Stench for months. Paige has decided to start another con – this one on Jack. It backfires when she follows him to a swamp and gets her platforms stuck. Oh my, movie. You got Jennifer Love Hewitt stuck in the mud. She covers in front of Jack by claiming she’s an environmentalist studying waste run-off in the neighbouring wetlands. But the two have their first tender moment, as Jack is here stargazing. It’s not long before they start kissing. At the restaurant, things get awkward for Max when she’s called on stage to sing a traditional Russian song. So she covers by singing “Back in the USSR” – which is awesome.

Things are now going well between Paige and Jack, with them lying on a blanket watching a shooting star. But she has to quickly go, before giving her name as ‘Jane’ and suggesting he try wishing on a star if he wants to see her again. You can tell she doesn’t have much experience with men. Next we see, Max and Tensy are bonding over a game of golf. It then rather awkwardly cuts to him presenting her with a golden cigarette lighter – with a musical theme from Alien playing in the background. Sadly, he expects a kiss for his gift – and the housekeeper catches Max throwing up in her mouth after he leaves. She’s immediately guessed what Max is up to – and she’s expecting a big payoff when Tensy kicks the bucket herself. So she threatens to blow the whistle if Max doesn’t disappear.

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There it is again.

Jack presents Paige with a ring that has a meteor fragment in it – like the ones they watched the night before. The gift isn’t worth very much financially, but it means more to Paige than anything else she’s ever been given. And unlike her mother, she gladly rewards Jack for it. But they have to get back to business – as Paige and Max sneak into Tensy’s house in the dead of night to take care of the housekeeper. She plants the gold cigarette lighter in Ms Madress’s dress. And for good measure, she hides the family’s jewels in the pillow and a collection of cigarettes in the closet. It’s of course the last one that persuades Tensy to call the police (and ask for them to “slap her around a little”).

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Paige goes to Tensy’s the next day disguised as a potential housekeeping replacement called ‘Allison’ (with a very unconvincing English accent). With help of a spilled drink between the thighs and some rubbing, it seems she’s got the job. Max is curious about why she’s hurrying the process along – but it turns out Paige had plans with Jack that day. When she meets up with him, he tells her that he’s in love with her and they share a tender kiss. Too bad that Max is watching them through binoculars.


Max challenges Paige immediately for falling in love with him. Paige tries to prove that she isn’t by popping over to Jack’s house and giving him a kiss. Since she quickly removes her top, I’m guessing that the heat isn’t the only thing she’s feeling. But she does realise her mistake – and tries to break it off with him, before going home and telling her mother she’ll drop the con. The next day, Max goes to meet with her old partner Barbara.

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Hold the phone…

Yes, indeedy. Anne Bancroft was not playing ‘Gloria Vogel – IRS Agent’; she is playing Max’s mentor. It turns out that IRS issue was just a scam cooked up by the two of them to prevent Paige from going out on her own. But it seems as if Max is a little regretful when she arrives back in the hotel room and sees Paige isn’t happy about breaking up with Jack. Nonetheless, Tensy pays her a visit at the hotel later – with the penis statue restored. Max moves into the next stage of the play with a fake letter from immigration saying she’s being deported. But as luck would have it, Tensy was planning to propose.

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It’s an afternoon of proposals, as Jack asks Paige to marry him. But later at the hotel room, Tensy is ready for some prenuptials. He has a bad coughing fit and unfortunately whacks his head off the statue’s restored penis. As for what happens next, I’m going to give you a lesson in comedy. There is a line that must be tread carefully in comedy – as crossing it can change something that was attempted to be played for laughs into unintentional drama. But sometimes comedians go over the line intentionally – and the gag is so shocking and taboo that it becomes hilarious. For example, Tensy dying is tragic. The fact that he died hitting his head off a stone penis? A little amusing but still tragic. The fact that Max tries mouth-to-mouth and has to spit out the cigarette smoke that was still in his mouth? Now that’s funny. And having to hide the body on the balcony, resulting in it falling down several storeys? Fucking hysterical. But things get even worse for the Conners – as Dean has arrived in the hotel.

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Max tries to run but he corners her. She thinks he’s got a gun in his pocket – but it’s a ring. He’s come to try and win her back. She’d probably be more receptive to the idea if she didn’t have a 60-something’s corpse in her car boot. She leaves Dean tied to the bed and blindfolded in what I assume is the filmmakers giving any females in the audience some form of eye candy. A maid comes into the room and lets slip that there’s two wallets…

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Dean goes over to Tensy’s house, finds Max and Paige together and realises the two of them conned him. He sums up the situation with “do you have any idea how much therapy you people need?” – but he’s found all their fake IDs and can go to the police to bust them. Max convinces him that she can pay him back the money they took. But there’s a big problem when she tries to check the money out: the account has already been closed. It turns out that Barbara must have stolen all the money (Max having given her the account numbers for the IRS scam). Paige has a solution for Dean – since she happens to have a potential suitor that’s worth $1.5 million in a divorce.

Paige strides back into the bar and, within minutes, the engagement is announced. She still looks uneasy about it. She overhears him talking about refusing to sell the bar – as the place was his father’s. Paige tells Dean and Max that it’s over because of this reason – but they burst in before she can break it off with Jack. They pretend to be her cousins ‘Betty’ and ‘Vinny’ and thus move forward with the plan. Max’s seduction technique is the old ‘rub lotion on my back’. The moment gets ruined by Dean deciding to shoot fish in the sea. Ray Liotta, you are awesome.

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“Tell me something I don’t know, kid.”

Max and Paige have one of their genuine moments in the film while looking at wedding dresses. Cut to the wedding outside the bar. While a sweet scene, Paige is clearly torn up by what she’s about to take part in. But she goes through with the plan and pretends to fall asleep in the room. Jack takes a walk, and Max strikes. She invites him in to share a bottle of cognac. Despite her best efforts, Jack rejects her. Or so Paige thinks; she goes over to the room convinced she’ll find nothing. But…

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The next scene has the divorce going through, Jack saying to give Paige whatever she wants. Afterwards he tries to talk to her, but she’s having none of that. Outside, Max and Dean have a heated heart-to-heart. Although she chews him out for cheating, he fires back that he still genuinely loved her. He claims that he wouldn’t cheat again because he was sorry that he lost her. Max then confesses that Jack’s infidelity wasn’t entirely what it looked like; she drugged him to get him into bed. At this point the movie has managed to move past just being a raunchy rom-com and crossed into territory we rarely see in fiction.

There’s a very common trope known as ‘All Men Are Perverts’. Fiction loves to simplify things down to say that all men think only with their penises – and their thoughts are primarily made of sex. If a scantily-clad woman walks by, any man will stare as if they’ve never seen human flesh before. Likewise, if a woman flashes her boobs, any man will turn into a drooling idiot. Essentially in fiction-land, all men are single-minded sex maniacs. The movie seems like it’s playing it straight for its first two acts – and Max and Paige make their money off it. But here they decide to deconstruct that idea. Yes, some men are perverts. And some men aren’t. Some men will not cheat on their wives or loved ones. And even if they do, it’s not an inherently male thing. It’s entirely possible for a cheater to realise their mistake and regret it – as is the case with Dean. So he shuts down Max’s “we can’t make a scumbag do anything a scumbag wouldn’t do anyway” logic. He also points out that Max holding Paige back like that is hardly any better. It almost feels as if he’s channelling…

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There’s also the fact that ‘All Men Are Perverts’ often goes hand in hand with a double standard that females can’t rape males. What Max does counts as rape; slipping Jack a drug so he’ll be caught in a compromising position. And the film does not play it for comedy – and presents it as one of the lowest things Max could ever do. Because of this, Dean decides he doesn’t want the money. Max comes clean to Paige and, after a brief scuffle in the car, she gets forgiven – and lets her daughter live her life. She swings by Dean’s hotel room and they reconcile. Things cut to Jack arriving in the bar, finding it open once again. Paige walks up to him and hands him the paperwork, saying “my name is Paige” – and it’s left ambiguous as to whether the relationship will continue once she’s revealed everything. The movie ends in a café where Dean is getting romantic with…

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Barbara? Oh, and Max is watching from a faraway car. So it seems that her and Dean are going to try and get their money back by giving Barbara a taste of her own medicine. So for once Mrs Robinson is the one getting seduced eh?

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Heartbreakers made its money back. On a budget of $37 million, it made around $50 million at the Box Office. Yet it doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact in pop culture. It’s understandable. After all it’s a female-led comedy that isn’t a ‘chick flick’. But whenever this film gets brought up, the word ‘underrated’ is often used. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a comedy that’s well thought out and makes me laugh out loud. The director and screenwriter seem to know how to make the humour come from the story, characters and overall situations – rather than going for the cheap laughs. The fact that it’s female-led without being a typical rom-com helps too. In fiction-land, women really struggle in comedies. Too often the females are usually the straight women to the wacky men – putting them in an unfair moral high ground. This film has no qualms about letting the women be as utterly horrible as the men – and thus maximising the comedic potential. So with good writing meeting a great cast and a perfectly respectable everything else, you have one hell of an underrated movie. And with it being a sex comedy, it could very easily be quite trashy. And yet it wasn’t. It was sexy in a classy way – if that’s possible. And there isn’t really an actress who best captures that blend of sexy and classy like Sigourney Weaver.

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If you want to see the movie’s grades, it’ll cost you $4k. Actually I’m just kidding. It’ll only cost you $3k.

Crap.

Worth a try, right?

*Story? Pretty original and well thought out. Making it a female-led story without conforming to the usual ‘chick flick’ parameters helped too. And the deconstruction of the ‘All Men Are Perverts’ trope was well played. A

*Characters? It’s one of those movies where the cast is made up of a bunch of despicable people who it’s therefore hilarious to see bad things happen to. And our villain protagonists still have that little bit of character depth to make us root for them. B+

*Performances? Three cast members going radically against their usual types. Sigourney Weaver plays a femme fatale and shows a) she still got it and b) she can do comedy very well. Jennifer Love Hewitt likewise goes against her typical wholesome characters and plays a bitch to hilarious perfection. Jason Lee swaps his slapstick for a more deadpan attitude – and he’s still hilarious. The supporting guys – Ray Liotta and Gene Hackman – come close to stealing the show. But the best supporting performance really has to go to Ms Hewitt’s breasts. All the critics agreed. A

*Visuals? Well there’s nothing eye-popping about the scenery or cinematography. Aside from a few location shots, Los Angeles doubles for Palm Beach. If the dresses that Ms Weaver and Ms Hewitt wear throughout count as visuals then I’ll say they were noticeable. B-

*Special Effects? N/A

*Anything Else? The writing was pretty good. The lines were funny but also realistic. The third act of the film did kind of suffer in the pacing, but not enough to ruin my enjoyment of it. B

It’s time to start terrifying ourselves again, because up next is the Italian cult classic Suspiria.

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