Seeing Cinema in a New Light: Criticism, Essays and Observations about Classic Cinema

1970s Movies, Comedy, Editorials, Film Criticism and Analysis, Rom-Com

Why I Appreciate the Heartbreak Kid (1972) Now

Once upon a time, I did not like The Heartbreak Kid, starring Charles Grodin and Cybill Shepherd. There were many reasons. The first one was that when I initially saw it, I thought it was just one tediously long set up to a very obvious and simple joke. The setup is that a guy goes to ridiculous lengths to pursue a woman who’s completely out of his league. The punchline is that as soon as he gets her, he becomes disenchanted because when you get down to it, he never really loved her; it was all about the thrill of the chase. My initial reaction was that if this was the entire point of The Heartbreak Kid, a lot more could’ve been done with this joke.

Another reason why I didn’t care for the movie initially is that it felt like director Elaine May had put out a poor man’s version of The Graduate as an expression of some professional envy she might’ve had of Mike Nichols. This may not make sense to younger readers, but if you don’t know, Elaine May was one half of the 1960s comedy team, Nichols and May. When they went solo, Mike Nichols shot The Graduate, which not only became a smash hit and cultural phenomenon but put him on the map as a well-respected, regarded director.

May, on the other hand, never really attained the level of acclaim that Nichols did. In fact, she would later go down in history as having written and directed one of the worst, most maligned movies of all time, Ishtar (1987).

Knowing this, I used to feel as though The Heartbreak Kid was a self-conscious attempt at trying to compete with Nichols–or at least prove to everyone that she was just as capable as he was of making a name for herself outside of their partnership. Not only were the themes and pacing of both movies very similar, May even had the movie end similarly to Nichols’ film, with the protagonist looking lost and uncertain about his marriage on the day of his wedding.

Keep in mind that I don’t know what May’s intentions were when she made The Heartbreak Kid. For all I know, it could’ve also been shot in admiration of The Graduate. I’m just saying what my initial impressions of the movie were. Something about it to me on first watch reminded me of that classic song, “Anything You Can Do.”

A decade after having last seen the movie, I had pretty much forgotten it because of how underwhelmed I’d been by it. Then it came on last year and I decided to see whether my negative impressions held up. To my surprise, I found myself enjoying the movie a lot more than I did the first time, perhaps because I had learned so much about all the themes that the movie was trying to explore. But before I go into these themes, let me give a synopsis:

1 Comment

  1. david byrnes

    What a great analysis. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: