The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Manners  |   Release Date - Dec 17, 1972 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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To call The Heartbreak Kid a companion piece to The Graduate (directed by Elaine May's once and future partner Mike Nichols) is to do it a disservice. A great movie in its own right, it more than holds its own against its better-known predecessor. Still, it would take quite a bit of effort to overlook the similarities. Like The Graduate, its subject is early-life disappointment and its comedy takes the form of pregnant pauses, awkward silences, and general discomfort (all touches more in the tradition of Nichols' and May's work than that of screenwriter Neil Simon). Though funny throughout, this is uncompromising stuff. In a careful performance, Charles Grodin does nothing to make his character likable, but his desperate neediness makes him strangely sympathetic. Similarly, May does nothing to hide the uncomfortable subtext of the film. Grodin's character, a Jew, may convince himself that it's love at first sight driving him to distraction, but the film makes clear he's following a false ideal of blonde, blue-eyed, WASPy affluence. As such, Cybill Shepherd's natural blankness actually works to the film's advantage, contrasting nicely with that of May's daughter, Jeannie Berlin, who, in the part of Grodin's newlywed bride, turns what could have been an ugly caricature into a highly sympathetic three-dimensional character. Comedies this sharp and insightful don't come along too often, making it all the more satisfying that May stands by the courage of her convictions to a bitter end that lends the title added resonance.