The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Release Date: December 17th, 1972 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Elaine May Actors: Charles Grodin, Cybill Shepherd, Jeannie Berlin, Eddie Albert, Audra Lindley




Sports Novelties salesman Leonard “Lenny” Cantrow (Charles Grodin) gets caught up in a whirlwind romance with Lila Kolodny (Jeannie Berlin) in New York. Disappointingly for Lenny, Lila wants to wait until the wedding night to become intimate – but when he propositions the deed, it’s only ten days away from their marriage ceremony anyway. And then, in the blink of an eye, they’re off to Miami Beach for their honeymoon.

On the long drive to Florida, the new couple begins to realize just how many things they don’t have in common, as well as all the little eccentricities that drive each other batty. She has a terrible singing voice; he’s a bit of a grouch; and they’re both quite incompatible sexually. Additionally, she’s nagging, has a considerable appetite, and needs continual verbal validation in the bedroom; and he has difficulty communicating his displeasures without losing his temper or contributing to awkward silences. “There’s a lot of things you didn’t notice about me.”

“We have the rest of our lives … 40, 50, 60, 100 years.” The film goes to hilarious lengths to make poor Lila unappealing (but never villainous) and to exaggerate the instant regret felt by Grodin’s protagonist. As every minute passes, some new detail crops up to create further distance between the newlyweds – to make them just that much more embarrassingly disparate. Curiously, he’s not exactly sympathetic; his proneness toward infidelity is an unsightly complication based on rash decisions and an escalation of lies. As a perfect form of temptation, in walks Cybill Shepherd (as Kelly Corcoran), a young blonde with a pleasant laugh, exceptional confidence, and a sensationally manipulative manner of flirting and teasing. She’s a classic comedy femme fatale, a cold-blooded seductress, and a whimsical beguiler.

Lenny is in quite a fix, as the girl of his dreams has arrived at the most inappropriate, complicated time. But his inclination toward deception doesn’t do him any favors as an upright character. He transforms into quite the dishonorable scoundrel, carrying on with his charades to such a degree that watching him finally come clean is exasperatingly uncomfortable. There’s a strange suspense surrounding his predicament, particularly when it comes to Kelly’s father, Dwayne (Eddie Albert), who becomes an understandable nemesis (and a clear inspiration for the dueling and combativeness seen in “Meet the Parents”), as well as with Lila’s unpreparedness for the sudden dissolution of marriage (an institution whose significance changes throughout the years, especially when it comes to audience responses).

Just as the film grows more and more distressing, it also manages to squeeze uncommon humor from outrageous situations. Somehow, Grodin plays the whole thing straight-faced, refusing to give in to the over-the-top interactions and the insincere romances. He’s goofy but thoroughly dedicated to the silliness. Creative photography gimmicks, an upbeat soundtrack (featuring the stellar theme song by Cy Coleman and Sheldon Harnick), unexpected slapstick, and painful reactions from background roles further supplement the comical agony of lives – and hopes and dreams – catastrophically falling apart. It’s hysterical and wearisome in equal measure. The pacing could have been tighter, but the structuring is smart and the ending is spot on – and perhaps far deeper than the general absurdity of the premise (there’s also commentary on Lenny’s Jewishness and Kelly’s WASPishness, though these qualities are largely lost to viewers outside of the film’s original theatrical time period).

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10