Whatever else it might prove to be, 2021 won’t be remembered as the twentieth anniversary of comedy Heartbreakers; we’ve got bigger fish to fry. I was living in LA when David Mirkin’s comedy came out, and the reception was a little tepid at the time. This story of a mother/daughter con-woman team was too broad for sophisticates, yet not base enough to be part of the post-Farrelly brothers wave of vulgarity. Popping up 20 years later on Amazon Prime, it’s actually a minor find for those looking for a laugh; an all-star, smartly written comedy that makes a few wrong turns, but certainly earns points for stars, locations and watch-ability.
Sigourney Weaver was and still is a huge name in the sci-fi and horror genres, but her drama (Death and the Maiden, Snow Cake) and comedy (Working Girl) chops are substantial. She does a great turn here as Max Conners, a con-woman who is always looking at the bigger picture. She manages to grift chop-shop car king Dean (Ray Liotta) into a brief, unconsummated marriage, allowing her to take him for every penny he has. She’s on course to do the same for hard-smoking millionaire William B Tensey (Gene Hackman) when her co-conspirator daughter Page (Party of Five’s Jennifer Love Hewitt) starts playing up. Page falls for the owner of a local bar Jack (Jason Lee), but his protective friends (Sarah Silverman and Zack Galifianakis) suspect her motives. Did I mention Carrie Fisher, Ricky Jay, Jeffrey Jones and Anne Bancroft were in this too?
Such a cast raises hopes of a Billy Wilder-level comedy classic, but that doesn’t quite come to pass here; the running joke about Tensey being a heavy smoker and close to death is kind of dark, and the black humour doesn’t gel with the more sentimental family comedy. And while Weaver burns up the screen with a number of comic personas, notably Russian vamp Olga Yevanova, Hewitt has a lot less to go on in her ingénue role. The plot bears some similarities to 2020’s Kajillionaire, and works itself out in a similar way, at least keeping you guessing until the final scenes.
And yet…Heartbreakers wasn’t on trend with anything back in 2001, and sunk without trace. Re-discovered, it’s got some funny lines and situations, plus decent, take-no-prisoners female characters. It’s a better genre film that Ocean’s 8, and shows that Weaver really has what it takes to hold a comedy together, even in this impressive company of acting talent.