The Heartbreak Kid Screen 10 articles

The Heartbreak Kid


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  • Elaine May's second feature is a funny and sometimes side-splitting film whose whole never approaches the success of its best moments in which the two levels of romantic fantasy and satire are reconciled. It falls prey to the kind of tonal inconsistencies, or rather irresolutions, that one might expect from the collective effort of such similar, wittily urbane, but not identical sensibilities as May's Simon's, and Friedman's.

  • Elaine May is one of the unsung geniuses of American comedy. As the abandoned bride, May provocatively casts her own daughter., eliciting a performance of heroic self-abasement from Berlin-perhaps the ultimate portrait of female abjection in American cinema. But the film’s farcical premise allows May to carry out a merciless dissection of masculine anxiety and fantasy. One of the most excruciating comedies ever made, it’s up there with any of Fassbinder’s sado-masochistic satires.

  • The Heartbreak Kid (1972), directed from Neil Simon's elaboration on a laconic Bruce Jay Friedman story, is the culminating work of Hollywood's Jewish new wave—as well as a hilarious riposte to The Graduate, the movie that more or less initiated that wave while sending the career of May's former partner, Mike Nichols, into hyperdrive.

  • An excruciatingly hilarious masterpiece of modern misanthropy... Even in The Heartbreak Kid, the one film she directed but didn’t take credit for writing, May managed to shift the shape of Neil Simon’s script in a manner so corrosive as to foretell aspects of Schrader and Scorsese’s psycho-cabbie transubstantiation of Bresson’s country priest.

  • This is the acidic satire of Gogol and Wilder and Germi, revised by May even as she rigorously sticks to the asshole's point-of-view... The humor's emotive sourness registers a devastating riposte to the glib smoothness of The Graduate, with that film's evasion of ethnicity and unearned redemption brought out for a thorough excoriation. "You're talking to a brick wall," Albert sternly informs Grodin -- he nevertheless pierces through, only to find the bleakest of comic endings on the other side.

  • This gut-wrenching tale is told in the coolest manner imaginable – every perfectly observed interaction plays out so smoothly and quietly that the full impact of the story is that much more devastating when it hits you during the film's final plaintive moments.

  • Effectively social yet unremittingly personal, plausibly academic yet grossly common, dangerously narrow in human scope (it’s the story of one boy and two girls) yet full of reckless formal ambition, the film suggests a triangulated worldview synthesized from André Bazin (people work problems out in realtime), Tennessee Williams (sexual energy is destructive whether sublimated or released), and Mort Sahl (what am I, chopped liver?).

  • Though often likened to a revision of "The Graduate," by Mike Nichols (who was May's performing partner in the fifties and early sixties), "The Heartbreak Kid" plays rather like a modern version of Howard Hawks's "Bringing Up Baby." Kelly's breathless and ruthless romantic intelligence matches that of Katherine Hepburn's performance as Susan Vance, the heiress who seduces David Huxley (Cary Grant), a bookish scientist, away from his fiancée.

  • A near-peerless comedy of humiliation and dissimulation, The Heartbreak Kid finds Charles Grodin’s craven Lenny Cantrow ditching his bride of less than a week, Lila (Jeannie Berlin), for shiksa coed Kelly (Cybill Shepherd) while the new spouses are honeymooning in Miami Beach. Berlin gives a flawless performance: Lila is vulgar, childish, and maddening, but never pathetic; she’s always in possession of some small kernel of self-respect, no matter how mortifying her situation may be.

  • If I had to apply, or in this case, make up, a narrative genre to the film, I’d label it a comedy of proportion. Each element, be it a character or a scene, fits perfectly—but not equally—within the whole. Such a sensibility is part of what accounts for May’s distinct brand of New York Jewish humor, a temperament that balances equitably divided self-loathing with genuine affection for all its targets.

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