For Reel

The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
May 8, 2016, 10:03 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Elaine May
4 Stars
The Heartbreak KidFew romantic comedies are as deeply pained as The Heartbreak Kid, which demonstrates the cruelties that result from egotism and the persistent strive for upward mobility. Charles Grodin plays a man who, just days after his wedding night, realizes he is repulsed by his new wife (Jeannie Berlin). Shortly thereafter, a Midwestern knockout (Cybill Shepherd) arrives at the resort where he is beginning his honeymoon and he finds himself instantly smitten. As with director Elaine May’s previous masterpiece A New Leaf, she shows a limitless boundary in showing human behavior at its most repulsive and self-absorbed. Just as May made herself the small-minded clutz of the preceding film, she casts her daughter as a severely sunburned bride with little sense of manners, table or otherwise. And yet, while both of the films revel in the comedic performances of the women, it is the men’s callous treatment of them that is the object of concern. When Grodin leaves Berlin in the hotel room for an entire day and concocts a lie that he has been in a car accident, she questions the authenticity and it results in a childish outburst—even if he knows he’s telling a lie, he is appalled by the fact that his word is being challenged. The Carpenters’ “Close To You” is the oft-repeated theme of the film, and each time it occurs in the soundtrack its message seems to get darker. What originally is sung by two lovers excited about their forthcoming honeymoon eventually dissolves into a demonstration of extraordinary desire and insatiable lust, the rest of the world be damned. Just as Albert Brooks was the most biting filmic satirist of the 1980s, May’s films similarly discuss egotism in an uncommonly raw, immediate way. That the films are hard to watch is not a knock on the entertainment value of the comedy or the actors performing it, but that the ugly themes are uncomfortably relatable.

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