Directed by David Mirkin
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Gene Hackman, Jason Lee, Ray Liotta, Anne Bancroft, Nora Dunn, Jeffrey Jones, Sarah Silverman.
2001 123 minutes
Rated: (for profanity and sexual innuendo).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 28, 2001.
In a time when the only comedies that seem to be made are of the raunchy, Farrelly-esque variety, a funny, sophisticated one is quite rare these days. But "Heartbreakers," smartly directed by David Mirkin (1997's "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion"), is just that. A movie that does not wallow in bathroom or scatological humor, it is involving, biting, heartwarming in a refreshingly non-cloying way, and occasionally riotous.
Max (Sigourney Weaver) and Paige (Jennifer Love Hewitt) are a mother and daughter con-artist team who scam for Max to marry wealthy, unsuspecting men, only for Paige to seduce them in front of her, leading to a swift divorce and much cash flow. When their latest conquest seemingly goes off without a hitch, they head to Palm Beach, Florida for one last big score before Paige goes off on her own. They quickly set their sights on the richest man they can find, in the form of multimillionaire tobacco tycoon William Tensy (Gene Hackman). Tensy is repulsive, with cancer spots on his forehead, yellowed, rotting teeth, and a constant cigarette in his mouth. Max, posing as a beautiful Russian immigrant named Olga, bewitches him, all the while Paige gets a job as his new housekeeper, setting into play the type of scam that they are pros at. Things, however, do not go as planned for the relational, naturally bickering duo, threatening to expose their criminal acts.
Reminiscent of a female version of 1988's "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," mixed with a comedic redux of 1990's dramatic "The Grifters," "Heartbreakers" is a hugely successful entertainment that plays out its story in a surprisingly unrushed manner that leaves the film running just over two hours (especially long for a comedy), but does not grow tedious once. Instead, its length aids in adding depth to both the characters and the different relationships, particularly that of the central figures, Max and Paige. A mother-daughter who do not always get along, but respect and stand up for one another when it counts, their interactions and dynamic are dead-on realistic. Best of all, despite some not-so-admirable things that they do throughout, Max and Paige remain likable and accessible to the audience. This is key in getting the movie to work; two nasty, annoying women would get old very fast.
As the alluring, sexy Max and the equally sultry Paige, Sigourney Weaver (1999's "A Map of the World") and Jennifer Love Hewitt (1998's "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer") have never, or rarely, been better. At 53, Weaver is not only physically stunning and gorgeous, but really proves to have a knack for the comedy genre. Her Max is an outwardly self-assured, inwardly insecure siren who fears the day when the only consistent person in her life, Paige, is gone. Their bond is obviously close, even when they argue, and in a life when they intentionally train themselves to stay at arm's length from caring about others, Paige is the only one whom Max is allowed to love.
Holding up her half of the story just as well, Jennifer Love Hewitt has finally thrown her squeaky-clean, "teen" movie image out the window, acting as a young adult for the first time in a movie that has not a doe-eyed high school senior pining for her, or a hook-wielding fisherman out to kill her, in sight. Hewitt has surrounded herself with top-flight talent here, in a film that gives her ample opportunity to test out her acting chops, and she succeeds every step of the way.
While Max sets into motion the scam involving Tensy, Paige, out to prove to herself that she isn't still an amateur, targets handsome, single bartender Jack (Jason Lee), whose bar he owns himself is worth upwards of $3-million. With Jack irresistibly drawn to the sometimes difficult Paige, she grows scared when she finds herself guilty of doing the one thing con artists are never supposed to do: start to truly care about the person they are playing. The offbeat romance that blossoms between Paige and Jack is unforced and subtle, and its payoff is one of surprising emotional depth. A climactic sequence between the two is especially touching and well-played by both Hewitt and the appealing Jason Lee (1998's "Chasing Amy").
On the other hand, Max is faced with a moral dilemma that she isn't sure how to deal with. Realizing that Paige may very well be falling for Jack, Max questions whether or not she should continue to lead her daughter into a life of crime, or get out while there is still time to make something better for each of their lives. These thoughts are put into play even more when her previous husband, Dean (Ray Liotta), whom she conned and actually felt guilty about because of her own attraction to him, comes looking for her. Dean knows that Max swindled him out of money, but he still can't help but half-like her, and he's not giving up without a fight. Ray Liotta (2001's "Hannibal") gets another meaty role here in a picture that is graced with a superb ensemble cast.
It is Gene Hackman (1998's "Enemy of the State"), however, who steals the show. As the repugnant, if not bad guy, Tensy, Hackman hacks and coughs his way through a scene-stealing part that deserves Oscar consideration come next year. Never has Hackman been so outrageously funny, as Tensy's outlook is that smoking is something to be proud of, something that children should be started on at a very young age, and something that turns him on like nothing else. One of the great moments comes when Tensy proclaims, "There is nothing more attractive than a heavy stream of smoke billowing proudly out of a woman's fiery, enflared nostrils." "That image," replies Max, "will haunt me forever."
Max and Paige may be in an illegal profession that asks them to be cold and generally emotionless, but "Heartbreakers" manages to be neither of these things. There are enough nuances and energy in each of the actors' performances, and enough humanity in the screenplay, by Robert Dunn, Paul Guay, and Stephen Mazur, to ensure that the movie will leave you liking the people you've me, and feeling good. And despite one misstep in the final scene that almost contradicts what I thought the meaning of the film was, "Heartbreakers" is a sparkling comedy. It is one of the best films, thus far, in a year that seems to be short on quality filmmaking.
©2001 by Dustin Putman