The Heartbreak Kid

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The Heartbreak Kid
Review (1/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

Just when I thought that it was safe to see a Ben Stiller film, he decided to collaborate with the Farrelly brothers in ruining Neil Simon's comedy classic, The Heartbreak Kid.

I must admit that I have never been a devoted fan of Ben Stiller's work. His acidic, sarcastic humour has never been particularly appealing to me. Unlike Will Ferrell, who actually has the acting chops to deliver a good performance when placed in the hands of a capable director, Ben Stiller strikes me as a bitter, angry little man who is content to play the same character in every film.

With the release of last year's Night at the Museum, I finally had the pleasure of watching a Ben Stiller film that I enjoyed. Sure, he was still a bitter, angry little man, but he had finally found an outlet in which to make that character funny. Having seen The Heartbreak Kid, I now realize that Night at the Museum was funny in spite of Ben Stiller, rather than because of him.

In the 1972 version of The Heartbreak Kid, Charles Grodin played Lenny Cantrow, a New Yorker who marries Lila (Jeannie Berlin) after a whirlwind courtship, only to discover that she was not the girl that he expected. Unfortunately for him, the revelation occurs while he is on his honeymoon, and is precipitated by his chance encounter with Kelly (Cybill Shepherd), a blond beauty from Minnesota. Based upon a screenplay by Neil Simon and directed by Elaine May, The Heartbreak Kid was nominated for two Oscars and three Golden Globes, and is listed as one of the American Film Institute's 100 Funniest Films ever made. Unfortunately for Elaine May, she went on to write and direct "Ishtar", and she has not directed a film since, but at least she will always have "The Heartbreak Kid".

Until now, that is.

In the 2007 version of The Heartbreak Kid, Ben Stiller plays Eddie Cantrow, a sports store owner from San Francisco who marries Lila (Malin Akerman) after a whirlwind courtship, only to discover that she is not the girl that he expected. Unfortunately for him, the revelation occurs while he is on his honeymoon, and is precipitated by a chance encounter with Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), a dark-haired beauty from Mississippi. Based upon an "updated" screenplay by Scot Armstrong, Leslie Dixon, Kevin Barnett, Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, and directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, this remake of The Heartbreak Kid is a shameful tribute to the original.

Although there are so many directions in which one could point the finger of blame when speaking about this film, if I had to choose a direction, it would be toward the film's screenwriters. The fact that there was a woman on this screenwriting team makes me wonder whether she actually had any meaningful role in the drafting of this screenplay, or whether her protests fell on deaf ears. I simply cannot fathom how any woman could have participated in the preparation of this screenplay without drawing attention to how crass, juvenile and offensive it is.

It is impossible for me to adequately describe the depths of depravity to which this film descends. From crude and explicit sexual references to disgusting bodily function jokes, this film included every tired "gross-out" gag to which film audiences have been subjected since the dawn of lowbrow comedies. To put it into context, this film makes predecessors such as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber and There's Something About Mary seem tame by comparison. I learned profanities that I did not even know existed (which is saying a lot, since I grew up in a household full of boys), witnessed sex scenes that forced me to choose between covering my eyes or my ears (I ultimately closed my eyes and covered my ears) and generally spent two hours wondering whether the film could get any worse (it did).

The only small beacon of light in this film was the performance of Michelle Monaghan, an actress who usually leans more toward drama than comedy (her last "big" role was her supporting performance as Tom Cruise's wife in Mission Impossible III). She rose above the severely lacking screenplay and managed to create the film's only likeable character. I enjoyed watching her on-screen. Hopefully, her upcoming performance in Ben Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone" will erase this abberation from her otherwise well-balanced film resume. In fact, her performance was the only aspect of this film that prevented it from receiving my third "zero" rating of the year.

At a time when audiences are supposed to be entertained with the most Oscar-worthy releases that film studios can generate, the fact that The Heartbreak Kid was able to slip past the executives at DreamWorks is a mystery to me. One can only hope that its run will be brief, because the only thing more heartbreaking than the fact that it was released at all, is the fact that it is occupying a screen that could be showing a film that is actually worth the trip to the theater.
 

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