The Heartbreak Kid (1972 film)
|The Heartbreak Kid|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Elaine May|
|Produced by||Edgar J. Scherick|
|Screenplay by||Neil Simon|
|Based on||"A Change of Plan"|
by Bruce Jay Friedman
|Music by||Garry Sherman|
|Edited by||John Carter|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|December 17, 1972|
|Box office||$5.6 million (rentals)|
The Heartbreak Kid is a 1972 dark romantic comedy directed by Elaine May, written by Neil Simon, and starring Charles Grodin, Jeannie Berlin, Eddie Albert, Audra Lindley, Doris Roberts and Cybill Shepherd. It is based on the short story "A Change of Plan", written by Bruce Jay Friedman.
Jeannie Berlin was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and Eddie Albert was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It is #91 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs, a list of the funniest American movies ever made.
The story begins in New York City with the traditional Jewish marriage of emotionally shallow, self-absorbed, "nebbish"-man-boy Lenny Cantrow (Charles Grodin), a sporting goods salesman, to Lila (Jeannie Berlin, daughter of director Elaine May), an annoyingly unsophisticated and emotionally needy girl.
While on their honeymoon in Miami Beach, Lenny meets and pursues the beautiful but manipulative Kelly Corcoran (Cybill Shepherd), a Midwestern college girl on holiday with her parents. When Lila is severely sunburned, Lenny quarantines her to their hotel room as he engages in a series of rendezvous with Kelly, lying to Lila about his whereabouts. Lenny impulsively ends their ephemeral marriage to pursue an indifferent Kelly, his ideal woman and ultimate fantasy shiksa-goddess. He believes she is the girl he has been waiting for all of his life and just "timed it wrong."
After leaving Lila (after only five days of marriage), he follows Kelly to Minnesota, where her justifiably resentful and protective father (Eddie Albert) is a relentless obstacle. Mr. Corcoran has undisguised contempt of Lenny, even offering Lenny a $25,000 bribe for him to leave following a dinner where Lenny inanely praises Midwestern produce as having "no deceit in the cauliflower." Lenny eventually marries Kelly, whose chief intent appears to be to rile and defy her father. At the wedding reception, Lenny's attempt to mingle with the attendees via mindless conversation fails, and he is ignored by the guests, his bride and new in-laws. He is a stranger at his own feast, quoting the cliches of the Republican press to some unimpressed children and lapsing into the same useless hum with which Lila formerly drove him mad. He got the girl, but appears to have lost a feeling of belonging.
- Charles Grodin as Lenny Cantrow
- Cybill Shepherd as Kelly Corcoran
- Jeannie Berlin as Lila Kolodny
- Audra Lindley as Mrs. Corcoran
- Eddie Albert as Mr. Corcoran
- Doris Roberts as Mrs. Cantrow
- Martin Sherman as Mr. Johnson
- William Prince as Colorado Man
- Augusta Dabney as Colorado Woman
The film is a black comedy, examining love and hypocrisy through a lens of pointed, subtle humor. Though it contains broad jokes, occasionally going for “laughs without shame,” Elaine May is credited with emotionally grounding the film and providing “a real understanding of character” through eliciting the kind of “caustic, almost powerful humor that comes from moments of wincing recognition when human foibles are accurately captured and revealed.” As another reviewer wrote in Sight & Sound, May’s strength lies in her “obsessive and affectionate observations of character.”
May shared with her late comedy partner Mike Nichols (1931-2014) a sparse, dialogue-oriented style and a quizzical perspective. She places an emphasis on character comedy; The Hollywood Reporter commented on her stylistic decisions to derive humor "from situations rather than obvious one-line jokes" and make comedic choices which "flow effortlessly from rhythmic dialogue, explosions of laughter." The New Yorker's Pauline Kael wrote, "Elaine May has the rarest kind of comic gift: the ability to create a world seen comically."
May's focus on comedic honesty, backlit by pain and misfortune, stylistically influenced a new generation of films. She pushed comedy into a "golden age as the result of the rise of the semi-surreal comedy of mishap, pain, insult, and desperation."
Love and Jewish Identity
The Heartbreak Kid is a particularly Jewish story; as Thomas Meehan wrote in The Saturday Review, the movie is a "triumph of New York Jewish humor," and The Village Voice called it "the culminating work of Hollywood's Jewish new wave." All the filmmakers are Jewish—Friedman, Simon, May, the producer Edgar J. Scherick, and the composers Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The story follows Lenny Cantrow, the embodiment of the Jewish archetype of the "shlemeil" (bungler), as he dumps Lila (Jeannie Berlin), a "kvetchy Jew" and "sloppy, incipient yenta," for the girl of his dreams, an all-American WASP. The film is a deadpan fever dream of shiksa-chasing, taking place in what Bruce Jay Friedman dubs in the original short story as the land of “strange blonde people.”
The character of Lila in particular has been labelled extremely stereotypical; Film Quarterly likened her to a female Portnoy, publishing a review stating "Philip Roth's friendly anti-Semitism is strikingly similar to Friedman's." Some critics have expressed concerns that the movie forwards a stilted vision of the modern female Jew and implicitly asks the question, "Why be married to a cloying, unsophisticated, slightly overweight Jewish girl who speaks with a discernible sing-song Jewish intonation (Yiddish influence) when you can perhaps conquer a very Waspy-looking, knockout blonde shiksa type?" This is despite the intentions of Jeannie Berlin, who told The New York Times that she did her best to honor the character and give Lila depth: "You see, I didn't want to make that girl stupid. It would have been so easy to do Lila stupid. I don't think Lila was stupid. I think every single thing she did was justified to her...And she really was terrifically in love." For the role of Lila, Simon wanted Diane Keaton, but May thought the intended contrast between Jewish and gentile wouldn't be strong enough.
Lenny's behavior as a classic nebbish Jew is thoughtless, as he leaves Lila high and dry on their honeymoon. Charles Grodin said afterwards that although he played the character with full sincerity, he had "pretty much indelibly stamped [himself] into the moviegoing public's consciousness as a jerk." Still, he said, many viewers misread the film as an illustration of precisely Jewish annoyances and not as critique: "The number of men who tell me how much they loved the movie and how much they identified with the character, while flattering, is also somewhat frightening."
The final moments of the film depict Lenny failing to communicate with Kelly's gentile family. It highlights how he gave up his personal cultural traditions, and how he misses them. Having walked down the aisle to Kelly as a large crucifix hung overhead, Lenny sits on the couch by himself, swimming in a sea of Christianity, listless and alienated as ever.
Vincent Canby of The New York Times declared it to be "a first-class American comedy, as startling in its way as was The Graduate." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4 in a review that concludes, "It's a comedy, but there's more in it than that; it's a movie about the ways we pursue, possess, and consume each other as sad commodities." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded the same 3.5/4 grade and wrote that "the heavy-handed comedy undermines the serious aspect of the movie—we really can't believe that Lenny would marry her in the first place. The overall high quality of the acting, however, does sustain the film." Variety called it a "bright, amusing saga" until the "audience is jolted by a sudden shut-off ending with no climax whatsoever." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that Grodin and Berlin "bring off hugely difficult comedy assignment with great style. Amidst increasing farcical events, they both somehow manage to preserve a sense of credible, foolish but sympathetic individuals lurking beneath the follies." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post thought that the film "has its faults, but it's also one of the most entertaining and original American film comedies of the last few years." The Independent Film Journal called it an "unquestionably brilliant comedy."(subscription required)
Awards and honors
- 1972: nominated for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Jeannie Berlin) and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Albert)
- 1972: nominated for Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Charles Grodin), Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture (Jeannie Berlin), and Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay (Neil Simon)
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974, pg 19.
- "The Heartbreak Kid". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
- Dawson, Jan (Summer 1973). "The Heartbreak Kid". Sight & Sound. XLII: 176 – via PROQUEST.
- Canby, Vincent (December 18, 1972). ""'Heartbreak Kid':Elaine May's 2d Effort as Director Arrives"". The New York Times. Retrieved November 6, 2017.
- "The Heartbreak Kid". The Independent Film Journal. 71, Iss. 2: 9. December 25, 1972 – via ProQuest.
- "The Heartbreak Kid (1972)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
- Kael, Pauline (1972-12-09). "THE CURRENT CINEMA". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2017-11-06.
- Arnold, Jeremy. "The Heartbreak Kid (1972)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
- Hoberman, J. (February 22, 2006). "Film: May Days". The Village Voice.
- Cohen, Mitchell (Summer 1973). "The Heartbreak Kid". Film Quarterly. 26 (4): pg 60–61.
- Kellerman, Henry (2009). Greedy, Cowardly and Weak: Hollywood Jewish Stereotypes. 185 Bridge Plaza North, Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books Inc. p. 65. ISBN 9781569803646.
- Gruen, John (January 7, 1973). "More Than Elaine May's Daughter". The New York Times.
- The Heartbreak Kid, Rotten Tomatoes, retrieved 2016-10-28
- Vincent Can (December 18, 1972). "Film: - The New York Times". The New York Times.
- Ebert, Roger. "The Heartbreak Kid". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
- Siskel, Gene (February 16, 1973). "'Beach Blanket Bingo,' honeymoon variety". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 3.
- "Film Reviews: The Heartbreak Kid". Variety. December 13, 1972. 20.
- Champlin, Charles (December 20, 1972). "Credible Comedy in 'Heartbreak Kid'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 1.
- Arnold, Gary (February 14, 1973). "'Heartbreak': The Glory That Is Gall". The Washington Post. F1.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 21, 2016.