For Reel

Mikey and Nicky (1976)
June 1, 2016, 10:57 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Elaine May
4 Stars
Mikey and NickyAlthough a surface-level examination would have one believe that Mikey and Nicky is the outlier of Elaine May’s short directorial career, it actually plays as the most precise of her features, condensing her themes into a modest epic about a failed male friendship. Her previous comedies (A New Leaf and The Heartbreak Kid) concerned betrayals and humiliation in excruciating detail, and similarly Mikey and Nicky sees John Cassavetes playing a character with the same manic desperation seen from May’s comedic actors in an even grimmer context. May pits Cassavetes against Peter Falk in what largely amounts to a two-hander, and the script and the performances embrace the series of reversals along the way—the picture doesn’t really begin until Falk has had his back pushed against the wall and the power dynamic is challenged. The two men often speak sentimentally about their childhood together, but the purity of what came before seems impossible in the adult context of what it means to establish oneself and make a living. True to the cynicism of many 1970s American features, Mikey and Nicky reflects the cold brutality of a world in which relationships are valued only as highly as the gains one can make from them. What is most remarkable about the film in relation to May’s previous efforts is how similar they are—the final sequence plays out with the same excruciating detail of the most embarrassing moments of The Heartbreak Kid. If much of the comedic context is gone, the desperation of the characters is the same.

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