In the world of the Farrelly brothers, love means always having to say you’re sorry. And no one is sorrier than Eddie Cantrow (Ben Stiller), who’s suffering the marital version of buyer’s remorse in this remake of 1972’s The Heartbreak Kid.
After spending Valentine’s Day at his ex’s fairytale wedding, the marriage-shy Eddie meets Lila (Malin Akerman) when — in a display of Old World gallantry — he tries to stop a purse-snatcher. Soon, Eddie’s convinced that he’s finally ready to take the plunge by his randy, foul-mouthed dad (Jerry Stiller) and best friend (Robb Corddry), whose own marriage is an exercise in terror. So before the first flush of brain-fogging infatuation has worn off, Eddie marries Lila a few weeks later.
On a road trip from San Francisco to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico — in a Mini Cooper that suddenly feels incredibly small — Eddie begins the painful process of discovering that the supremely annoying and clingy Lila is nothing like her lovely facade. But does this realization make Eddie any less of an asshole for pursuing Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), the real girl of his dreams, while on his honeymoon with Lila? It’s a toss-up.
Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly, and fellow screenwriters Scot Armstrong and Leslie Dixon, have flipped the 1972 film on its head by reversing the women’s roles. The original had a schlemiel marrying the unspectacular girl everyone thinks he should, only to decide he could upgrade with an icy blonde he meets on his honeymoon.
Now the wife is absolutely grotesque — Lila’s a monster of vanity and stupidity whose beautiful surface seems to decay before our very eyes — and the potential girlfriend, Miranda, is warm and raucously funny. Also, Eddie’s emotional ruthlessness is discussed, but never fully addressed, letting Stiller’s likeability smooth over the rough spots.
Reuniting with Stiller nearly a decade after their breakthrough film, There’s Something About Mary, seems to have stimulated the Farrellys to revisit their gross-out past. (Carlos Mencia’s Uncle Tito is one of their quintessential characters, equally profane and funny.) The Heartbreak Kid is constructed almost as a humiliation machine, with Stiller as its fulcrum.
He’s a master reactor: After very vigorous sex with his demanding new bride — during which Stiller resembles a spasmodic salmon — there’s a shot of him curled up in a fetal position, and his response says it all. No one suffers indignities better, and Heartbreak brings the pain.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.