The Heartbreak Kid (1972) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

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Danny LIKEElaine May is not the most beloved filmmaker in the world. Director of A New Leaf (which had about 80 minutes edited out of it by a studio scared of marketing a three hour black comedy), Mikey and Nicky (whose budget doubled during production and flopped on release) and Ishtar (the most infamous flop of the 1980's, which is saying something considering the number of Eddie Murphy movies being released in those days), May's only film that escaped trouble was 1973's The Heartbreak Kid.

And what a film it is. Based on a play from Neil Simon, a man whose usually safe takes on marriage has made generations of housewives giggly, The Heartbreak Kid takes a lot of notes of the New Hollywood outlook of films such as The Graduate and Catch-22.

Yes, Charles Grodin is a heartbreaker.

I mention those two films specifically since they were directed by Mike Nichols, who had been an improv partner on the stage with May in a show that had brought them both to fame. Though their careers occasionally intersect, Nichols has always had more fame and success. There are plenty of ways you can look at this, but its a shame that May has long suffered in Nichol's shadow.

Frankly, after seeing A New Leaf and The Heartbreak Kid, it's hard to understand why. Her pacing is great, and her use of long shots and deadpan utterly remarkable. Nichols may continue to be more prolific (search for Elaine May on IMDB and Nichols still comes up first), but May is neglected.

Okay, I'm halfway through this review and all I've done is lament the filmmaker! My bad.

The Heartbreak Kid is the story of Lenny Cantrow, a newlywed who meets the woman of his dreams on his honeymoon. His wife, Lila, is a beautiful woman who turns out, of all things, to have flaws. She's noisy in the sack, needy at breakfast, and, worst of all, has to urinate on occasion. Who'd have thought?

Instantly disenchanted, Cantrow becomes despondent and hostile. It's not until the third day after his wedding that he meets a buxom blond coed on the beach who seems to be flirting with him that his life finally seems to have found a purpose.

No matter how loving the marriage, Cybill Shepherd showing up is bad news.

Cantrow soon becomes obsessed with the blond, Kelly, and within a day he's promising to ditch his wife and run away with her. She seems fitfully bemused, while her father seems infinitely less so. With his new wife laid up with sunburn, Cantrow now has the time and motivation to launch a full out assault onto Kelly's fair charms.

Charles Grodin plays the lead, and rarely has his affable sliminess been put to better use. He plays against the charmingly daft Jeannie Berlin as his wife and the irresistible Cybill Shepherd as his new love, and all three have a lot of fun with the comedy of embarrassment and insanity that ensues.

It's hard to believe such a movie was made half a century ago that seems so utterly fresh and modern; Cantrow is the preeminent man-child that nowadays populates the Apatow-laden landscape that dominates current male stereotypes. But the nice part about the film is that it doesn't give you the easy ending, and keeps Cantrow's loathsome fickle heart firmly into its cross hairs until the final brilliant line.

So, Elaine May, wherever you are, wherever your career currently is, it's a damn shame that it's just there.

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Posted by Danny

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