'Heartbreak Kid': And Now, You May Ditch the Bride

Eddie (Ben Stiller) and his nightmare of a bride, Lila (played by Malin Akerman), in
Eddie (Ben Stiller) and his nightmare of a bride, Lila (played by Malin Akerman), in "The Heartbreak Kid." (Dreamworks)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007

We feel soiled.

That dirty feeling comes from the cumulative gross-out spurt of recent popular culture -- the "Jackass" movies and "Borat," "Knocked Up" and "Superbad." Yet we have surfaced from this cultural muck pool to declare "The Heartbreak Kid" caused us to fall about in laughter, snorting hard enough to rupture truly important internal organs.

Is the movie disgusting? Yes. Mortifying and crude? Indeed. After all, this comedy, starring Ben Stiller and Malin Akerman, comes to us from the Farrelly brothers, best known for comedies such as "Dumb & Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary."

What makes those films, and the latest one, more than mere crudesmanship is the way they stretch the familiar taboos and embarrassing moments of real life to their satirical breaking point. As we laugh -- and recoil -- at the sight gags and staggering deficit of taste -- we recognize our own species, albeit at its most grotesque. In their gleefully merciless way, Bobby and Peter Farrelly, masters of exaggeration, are playing, or screeching, our song.

In "The Heartbreak Kid," they're also throwing out the sheet music. Although the filmmakers based their movie on the same-named 1972 comedy that starred Charles Grodin and Cybill Shepherd, they follow the story line only superficially. This is not a replication of a classic from yesteryear.

In this case, Stiller plays Eddie, a sports store owner who falls for, and quickly marries, the tall, gorgeous Lila (Akerman). On honeymoon in Mexico, he realizes his new wife isn't the blond goddess he had hoped for but a demon bride, from her trucker-swearing enthusiasm for Olympian sex (read: grievous bodily harm) to her almost limitless klutziness and stupidity.

Reclining in despair at the hotel pool, Eddie becomes enchanted with Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), a breath of fresh air from Oxford, Miss., whom he tries to court while figuring out how to escape from his marriage.

So what is the showstopping gag of this movie -- that Farrelly trademark moment that your co-workers will still be hooting about on Monday? Fans will remember Jeff Daniels's aurally eventful visit to the bathroom in "Dumb & Dumber" and Cameron Diaz's questionable hair gel in "There's Something About Mary." In the latest film, there are many. But we'd have to vote for the scene in which Lila tries to swallow an enormous pill, and because of her deviated septum (the result of past cocaine abuse), it goes down -- or, rather, up -- the wrong way. We are still laughing at Stiller's ensuing dinner table surgery with tweezers.

The movie does have its subtleties, most of them centered on Stiller. It's his best, most understated performance since those memorable sufferings at the hands of a militaristic Robert De Niro in 2000's "Meet the Parents." In "The Heartbreak Kid," he shows his gift for suffering silently through the worst emotional torture. When Lila tells him she loves him, for instance, he struggles for a polite yet honest response.

"Love-love-love-love-love," he mumbles almost rhetorically, clearly wishing the Mexican earth would just swallow him whole. As the source of his trauma, Akerman (the amusing Liane in "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle") makes a perfect partner, a goofy cover girl from hell. Her obliviousness to Eddie's growing irritation and disgust makes for some delicately hilarious moments. When Eddie, lying in bed with her, politely begs Lila to stop tracing incessant circles around his nipple, she responds with innocence:

"What if I made little squares?"

And the nightmare continues.

The Heartbreak Kid (116 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for strong sexual content, crude humor, profanity and drug use involving a minor.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company