Ben Stiller is one of those classic romantic comedy guys, which I guess is why he appears in so many films of this genre. What I mean is, he’s very convincing as your average nice guy who, as Roger Ebert puts it, is fantastic at doing a slow burn — just letting all of the other characters and situations grate on him without complaint until he simply cannot take it anymore. The audience sympathizes with a guy like this, and we can understand the outburst when it finally does come.
So what happens when Stiller plays a fundamentally unlikable character, as he did in the 2007 Farrelly brothers comedy The Heartbreak Kid? Well, the formula gets turned on its head and the result, at least in this case, isn’t pretty.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Stiller stars as Eddie Cantrow, a 40-something sporting good store owner who is feeling pressure from his father Doc (played by Jerry Stiller) and his best friend Mac (Rob Corddry) because he hasn’t found the right woman to settle down with yet. After attending his ex-fiancée’s wedding and hearing the bride’s father slight him in a toast, Eddie becomes more determined than ever to meet someone and end his bachelor days.
That someone turns out to be Lila (Malin Akerman), whom Eddie runs into outside a laundromat on Valentine’s Day. He didn’t get her number that day, but then she visits him at his store a little while later. They go out for coffee, hit it off, and are soon dating. A short time later, they get married and then drive down to Cabo for their honeymoon.
That’s when the trouble begins. Eddie realizes that he doesn’t know Lila half as well as he thought he did. In his words, it was like she “flipped a switch” after they got married, becoming a totally different person. Her transgressions range from minor annoyances like singing along to every single song that comes on the radio to having a wild past that includes cocaine abuse and $27,000 in debt. Oh, and Lila is so adventurous in the sack that she doesn’t even know what the missionary position is because she apparently does everything except that.
Eddie is miserable during the first few days in Cabo as he realizes that he has just made a huge mistake in marrying Lila. But then she gets a very bad sunburn that forces her to stay indoors for a while, which allows Eddie to go out by himself. He ends up meeting a woman named Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), and soon falls in love with her.
The rest of the film then deals with various situations that come up as Eddie tries to figure out how to dump Lila as quickly and painlessly as possible in order to snatch up Miranda. There are several romcom-style complications along the way, but no real surprises as the film builds up to its disappointing conclusion.
My Reaction: I didn’t like this film at all, mostly because I couldn’t think of a single way that the basic premise — that of marrying someone too quickly only to discover that personalities and ideals clash too much — could be funny. Then when you add the fact that Stiller’s character was reprehensible in his actions and that none of the jokes or sight gags actually elicited laughter, you can imagine how The Heartbreak Kid was pretty tough to sit through.
I really couldn’t stand the way Lila was portrayed after the wedding. Since Eddie was the main character, the filmmakers had to do something to make him at least more likable than Lila, so how did they accomplish this, they decided to saddle Lila with all kinds of flaws — none of which were even hinted at during the dating period. While I can see how Lila might have neglected to mention her old coke habit or her huge debt, I doubt that the singing or the volunteer “job” would have been major bombshells. Do you mean to tell me that Eddie and Lila never got into a car with the radio on while they were dating?
Also, whenever two characters in a movie wait to have sex until their wedding night, you can bet it means something bad will happen when they eventually do get around to it. In this particular case, having Lila be so… aggressive… was meant to be funny, but was actually just awkward and uncomfortable.
The only highlight for me in this film was Martin (Danny R. McBride), as he saw through Eddie’s bullshit and called him out whenever he had a chance. More Martin scenes might have made things a bit more tolerable.
Overall, I was very disappointed with the way The Heartbreak Kid turned out. I know it was a remake, so problems with the basic storyline can be blamed on someone else, but I was expecting so much more from Stiller and the Farrelly brothers. I give this film 2 stars out of 5.