DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
HEARTBREAK KID, THE (director/writer: Elaine May; screenwriters: from the story A Change of Plan by Bruce Jay Friedman/Neil Simon; cinematographer: Owen Roizman; editor: John Carter; music: Garry Sherman; cast: Charles Grodin (Lenny Cantrow), Jeanne Berlin (Lila Kolodny), Cybill Shepherd (Kelly Corcoran), Eddie Albert (Mr. Corcoran), Audra Lindley (Mrs. Corcoran), Mitchell Jason (Cousin Ralph), William Prince (Colorado Man), Augusta Dabney (Colorado Woman); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Edgar J. Scherick; Anchor Bay; 1972)

 
"A poignant and witty marital comedy."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Elaine May ("A New Leaf") presents a poignant and witty marital comedy that is based on the story A Change of Plan by Bruce Jay Friedman. Cowriter is playwright Neil Simon. It explores the meaning of true love initially in an amusing way by showing lust as what fuels most marriages, but as the tale gets exaggerated it builds to a tragic ending that seems out of place (the dramatics come so suddenly that it doesn't quite sink until one gets a chance after the film to think how far the narrative has shifted gears; it gives May a chance to make some acerbic observations about how people use each other and don't care who they hurt to get what they want even if they don't deserve it).

Lenny Cantrow (Charles Grodin) is a twentysomething ex-soldier, working as a sporting goods salesman. In a singles bar Lenny meets fellow New Yorker Lila Kolodny (Jeanne Berlin, Elaine May's daughter) and after a short romance, where the 22-year-old virgin frustratingly keeps the horny salesman from having sex, they get married in a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. On their drive to their Miami Beach honeymoon, Lenny finds by the time they reach Virginia a number of small things he doesn't like about his wife such as her singing voice, she's too talkative during sex, keeps mentioning that they'll most likely spend the next 50 years together and gets smears of egg salad over her face as she gorges herself. At the luxurious Doral Hotel, Lila gets a severe sunburn and is confined to the hotel room. On the beach a coy blonde beauty goddess from Minnesota, on her college winter break with her parents, Kelly Corcoran (Cybill Shepherd), successfully flirts with Lenny. During the course of the next three-days, the determined Lenny decides to divorce his wife and marry the shiksa. He does this despite Kelly not being responsive to him as a marriage partner and Kelly's father (Eddie Albert) making it evident he hates his guts, especially as Lenny lays his cards on the table and tells him "there's a slight complication--I'm a newlywed." 

Things turn ugly when Lenny breaks his wife's heart on her first night out to a restaurant by telling her he wants out of the marriage. Lenny gets a quickie divorce by agreeing to give her everything and two weeks after the Florida vacation visits Kelly in Minnesota. Kelly's banker father still can't stand the sight of the self-absorbed upwardly mobile wiseguy, and offers him as much as 25 grand if he'll leave town. Lenny ends up charming the popular coed with schmaltz that's passed off as sincerity. Though Kelly is escorted by members of the football team to class and is the dream girl on campus, she's attracted to the nebbish Lenny by thinking of him as a teddy bear. Lenny tells Kelly, in what might be the film's most sardonic line, "I don't play games with my life." His persistence pays off, as the film opens with a Jewish wedding and ends with a Protestant wedding. In both weddings there were signs that things are not going to work, as Lenny is living in a fantasy world and has no idea what he really wants except for selfish sexual urges he has for women who keep him panting in anticipation.

There are some brilliant performances by Berlin, Albert, and especially Grodin, who carries the film as a nervy guy who does hurtful things but somehow is never viewed as just a cad. If he couldn't convey, in a magnificent piece of acting, to the viewer that he was a somewhat sympathetic character, the film most likely would have fallen apart. Kudos must also go to May, who takes the film further than just the comedy Simon intended by building a strong character-driven story that slices its way across different hypocritical social groups in the American scene and leaves it building on gravitas. Viewing it after all these years, after enjoying it initially in the theater, the comedy seems just as relevant as when it was released in 1972 and seems more powerful than The Graduate--a film by May's usual writing partner, Mike Nichols, that it's often compared to.

REVIEWED ON 2/25/2006        GRADE: A

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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