If you needed just one example of the sexist double-standard prevalent in Hollywood, I doubt you could do better than looking at the great Elaine May- writer, director, comedian, victim. As the more daring and fearless half of the comedy team of Nichols & May, Elaine May has been intimidating men with her sharp wit and killer looks from day one. After getting bored being the #1 most sophisticated and intellectual New York City comedy duo in the country, both May and Nichols went on to make films. But while Mike Nichols went on to have a successful career making comedies (from the brilliant Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to the not-so-brilliant Wolf, Regarding Henry and What Planet Are You From?) Elaine May only managed to eek out three masterful comedies before her fourth, the infamous Ishtar, buried her for good.
Ishtar wasn’t that bad, actually, and the problems with the project had nothing to do with May (and everything to do with the inflated Egos of its two stars.) More to the point, May’s three previous films were so good, Ishtar shouldn’t have killed her career, but it did- inexplicably (unless, of course, we look at her gender.)
Which brings us to The Heartbreak Kid, a hilarious comedy starring Charles Grodin as a dopey, one-track-minded man who impetuously marries the less-than-perfect Lila (brilliantly performed by May’s own daughter, Jeannie Berlin), only to regret the decision right away. Enter the gorgeous and extremely young Kelly (Cybill Shepherd)… and with that very basic premise, May weaves a hilarious, sharp, and totally unexpected satire that leaves no person unscathed.
While May’s third film, Mikey and Nickey cuts deeper & darker, The Heartbreak Kid keeps you laughing from start to finish while also providing a very poignant commentary on modern man and the fragile empire he has built for himself. He runs the world, gets everything he thinks he wants, and yet basically remains a big Zero; May knows how to make that statement the way only a true satirist can. If we lived in a remotely just society, she would have a good fifteen to twenty films under her belt deflating our pretensions, but in this Universe, we’ll have to contend with four.
One thought on “The Heartbreak Kid”