MOVIE REVIEW | The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Director Elaine May sets up her main character as an asshole from the very beginning, then basically dares us to watch him for the next 100 minutes.”

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“There’s no insincerity in those potatoes. There’s no deceit in the cauliflower. This is a totally honest meal.”

With A New Leaf, Elaine May took one of the darkest approaches to a romantic comedy I have ever seen, and the result was one of the funniest anti-romantic comedies I have ever seen.  If that was the extent of her directorial career, I would assume that May had a fairly dry, cynical distrust of the kind of romance and ideas of love that inform so many movies.  Now that I’ve seen her follow up, The Heartbreak Kid, I’m certain that’s the case.

Rushed into a marriage with a woman he barley knows, Lenny (Charles Grodin) ends up stuck in a car with his new bride (Jeannie Berlin as Lila) for several days as they drive across country for their honeymoon.  The extremely close quarters and endless hours on the road highlight every annoying quirk of Lila’s with Lenny well and truly out of love by the time they reach their honeymoon hotel in Florida.

Lenny’s ambivalence to his marriage turns into full resentment when he meets beautiful blonde Kelly (Cybill Shepherd).  With Lila stuck in their room recuperating from severe sunburn, Lenny squirmingly makes up excuses to leave her alone as he cavorts with Kelly.  While he comes clean about his marriage to his new lustful obsession, that might be the only action of Lenny’s that approaches anything near noble.  He might claim to love Kelly, he might even genuinely believe he loves Kelly, but the pure selfishness of Lenny is never in question for the viewer.

Like Walther Mathau’s character in A New Leaf, May sets herself a challenge by making Grodin’s Lenny totally despicable and unlikeable.   In a traditional romantic comedy, Lenny would be the kind of guy that the main female character breaks up to be with her soul mate, that actual male lead.  Here, May sets him up as an asshole from the very beginning, then basically dares us to watch him for the next 100 minutes.
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Between this, A New Leaf and Ishtar, I’ve now seen three quarters of Elaine May’s entire directorial, feature film output.  And so far, she’s three from three for making darkly hilarious movies out of some of the most aggravating protagonists ever committed to film.  She’s so good at wringing comedy out of these assholes, it’s a real shame that she only ever made four movies.

The Heartbreak Kid
Directed By – Elaine May
Written By – Neil Simon

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about The Heartbreak Kid?
Roger Ebert
The New York Times
Pop Culture OCD

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