My, how the mighty have fallen. Back in the mid-to-late 90's, the writing/directing team of Peter and Bobby Farrelly were the golden boys of Hollywood high-concept, gross-out comedy. Their first three films were comedy masterworks; DUMB & DUMBER, KINGPIN, and THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. Three hilarious films that set genre trends in motion and were constantly imitated and parodied. My overall favorite of the bunch, KINGPIN, exists as one of the finest screen comedies I've ever seen. And with that one-two-three punch, the phrase "Farrelly Brothers" was instantly cemented into pop culture. Their next film, the wildly underappreciated ME, MYSELF, & IRENE, seems to have been misunderstood when first released. It was the darkest film from the brothers at the time, and it featured an exhaustingly deranged performance from Jim Carrey. It was also the film the showcased Rene Zellwegger as the true fox that she is. Mean, more cynical, and still interested in the gross-out gag, ME, MYSELF, & IRENE was a box office hit but some people really seemed to hate the film. I don't understand why. I laughed a lot.
Then....the low times. OSMOSIS JONES, SHALLOW HALL, and STUCK ON YOU were as lousy as their first four films were fantastic. Sloppy filmmaking techniques began to surface, and their films seemed more to be ideas-in-search-of stories rather than fully fleshed out narratives. They redeemed themselves nicely with FEVER PITCH, a film I should never have loved the way I did (I hate the Red Sox and I am not a fan of Drew Barrymore or Jimmy Fallon). But FEVER PITCH demonstrated a more restrained narrative from the Farrelly's and it showed them trying to be more mature while still telling a funny story. Their latest film, THE HEARTBREAK KID (1/2 *; yes, that's half of one star), is easily the worst film of their career, and should serve as a warning to them both that their time as Hollywood's reigning class clowns might have come to an end. We're in the days of the Judd Apatow brand of humor (KNOCKED UP, 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN) and I am proud to say I'm loving his output.
Now, in fairness to anyone who might be reading this, stop now if you actually want to see this lump of cinematic feces. I am going to spoil some of the plot point, discuss specific gags, and ruin the ending of THE HEARTBREAK KID in this review. Also, in keeping with the crude vernacular tradition that the Farrelly's so strenuously subscribe too, my review will be peppered with profanity (both as a way of accurately describing parts of the film and as a way for me to vent my frustrations over how poorly conceived this film was). It's not every day that I dislike a film as much as this one, and it came to me as a surprise because for the first 30 minutes or so, it was a moderately funny film with some potential. But the film quickly began to fall apart and the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film are some of the sloppiest bits of filmmaking and storytelling that I've seen in a while. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Ben Stiller is Eddie, a guy just turning 40 who owns a sporting goods store in San Francisco. Afraid of commitment and constantly dealing with his horny, foul-mouthed father (Jerry Stiller, wandering around the film asking his son why he isn't out "crushing pussy" or referring to his son as "pussy-dick"), Eddie is looking for his dream girl but is constantly coming up with reasons to dump whoever he's dating. He's got a recently married best buddy named Mac, played with deadpan perfection by Rob Corddry. The only scenes in the film with any genuine humor are between Mac and Eddie, with Mac explaining the rules of marriage and how to avoid problems with the wife. One day while Eddie is walking in the street, he attempts to retrieve the stolen purse of a local hottie named Lila, played with energy and wit by Malin Akerman. Lila and Eddie have their meet cute, they exchange some personal info, and off she goes. The next day she shows up at Eddie's store; some sparks fly. The film then glides over their courtship as Eddie proposed marriage to Lila. He's only known her for a few months but he thinks he's found the perfect woman. However, at Lila's request, they don't consummate their relationship; she thinks that sex can ruin a great relationship and she wants to take it slow.
So, they get married, and then that's when Eddie starts to see a new Lila. The conceit of the film is that Lila is really a basket-case, the ultimate problem-wife, with Eddie not knowing all that's about to happen. But one of the biggest problems with the script is that Lila isn't all that bad. Sure, she sings along to whatever song is playing on the radio on their road trip to Cabo. And when they finally get ready to have sex, Eddie is shocked (and for some reason appalled) when Lila screams "cock me!" during love-making and demands to have sex in highly acrobatic positions (the term "missionary position" is foreign to her). Oh yeah...she's a little ditzy and wants to use mineral oil while sun-tanning, which leads to her getting a horrifying sun burn that develops into disgusting, pussing boils all over her skin (a wink to Chris Elliot at the end of THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY). Eddie starts freaking out over these things and starts thinking he's made a big mistake. He then meets a cute brunette named Miranda (Michelle Monaghan) who is staying at his hotel. Eddie starts making up elaborate excuses as to why he can't hang out with Lila so he can spend time with Miranda. And he never tells Miranda about the fact that he's married. Mix in a few more plot contrivances that I won't even bother re-hashing because they were all so fucking stupid and you get the basic premise here. Eddie needs to ditch the psycho and get with the normal chick.
Sounds like a set-up filled with comedic opportunity. Except, all I felt was sorrow for Akerman's character and contempt for Stiller's character. Lila, worts and all, isn't that bad of a girl. Fine, she's got a deviated septum from a few years of cocaine abuse, but what twenty-something party girl doesn't have a checkered past? And all the crazy sex stuff; I know more guys who would like what she dishes out in the bedroom than guys who would be turned off. Fine, the smacking and hitting of the face during copulation might be pushing it too far, but you get my drift. While Eddie is out sneaking around behind her back, all I did was feel bad for her. And she's then saddled with the terrible sun burn which leaves her in physical pain. Eddie, as played by Stiller, is the most unsympathetic character the actor has tackled yet in these types of comedies. I never liked him, I didn't care to see him win in the end, and his relationship with Miranda felt false every step of the way. I wanted him to get caught by Lila and face whatever wrath she brought down on him. And since the lazy plotting doesn't allow for anything remotely satisfying to happen at the end, the film sputters to the finish line, almost daring the viewer to turn the power off on the DVD player early.
So, in the end, Eddie doesn't get anyone. He loses Lila (she leaves in a huff and isn't heard from at all during the last 25 minutes of the film) and then loses Miranda. There's a horrible sequence where he breaks into Miranda's new house after she gets married to someone else; it's really a pathetic scene with zero believability. The film then cuts forward 18 months to Eddie living down in Cabo and working at the very resort that brought him so many problems. He bumps into Miranda again and asks her out on a date. She says yes and walks away. Then, in the most unnecessary cameo ever, Eva Longoria pops up playing Eddie's newest wife; she gives one or two lines of dialogue which suggest that she's another Lila-type whacko. Eddie turns to the camera, realizing he's about to go through the same exact thing as before, and utters the phrase: "Fuck me," before the film cuts to the directed by credit for the Farrelly's. Gee...how inspired.
THE HEARTBREAK KID wants to have it all ways: crude then cute, funny then mean, gross but smart. The script, credited to five writers (!), veers all over the place both tonally and thematically. What is Eddie's real problem? What is it about guys like him that scare themselves out of being able to commit to one woman? And through it all, the Farrelly's still have the desire to make us squirm from gross-out humor. So we get scenes of a jellyfish latching itself onto Eddie's back and Lila taking a piss on him to cool the sting marks on his back (and in doing so showing off her mound of un-shaved pubic hair...ha-ha). Everything in this film felt stale, forced, and just plain-old tired. And at the end of the day, I just don't get it. I know that every filmmaker is allowed their share of misfires, but how could a team like the Farrelly brothers give us such instant comedy classics like DUMB & DUMBER and KINGPIN and then shit the bed so badly with THE HEARTBREAK KID?
So why am I even giving the film half of one star? Well, for starters, through all of this garbage, Akerman yet again proves that not only is she stunningly hot, but that she has some serious comedic chops. She's also quite willing to take her clothes off which doesn't hurt either. You might remember her from HAROLD & KUMAR and as a seductress on the television show ENTOURAGE. Next year she has one of the lead roles in 300 director Zack Snyder's latest film WATCHMEN. And as I mentioned earlier, Corddry made me laugh out loud a bunch of times. And while Stiller is stuck playing a dick-weed of a character, he still reminds you that he's a funny guy; he brings some laughs to the table. But sooooo much of THE HEARTBREAK KID feels like left-overs from other, better films from the Farrelly's. I don't know what's next on their filmmaking agenda but I'd suggest that the two of them go back to the drawing board. Write something original, do something smaller, and bottom line, make me care about the characters in the way I have in previous films. THE HEARTBREAK KID is a staggering mess.