Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Heartbreak Kid

Just watched this again last night. Surely one of the great film comedies, and one of the great pieces of awkward or uncomfortable (serio)comic cinema (cf. Leo McCarey's unheralded masterwork Good Sam, Tom Noonan's two completed films, Ricky Gervaise & Stephen Merchant's The Office, plus probably anything Albert Brooks or more by May herself have done, though I haven't seen everything). The ending really is raw and unbalanced, as the whole ostensible point of the film (romance/love/infatuation) vanishes like the illusion it was, and, pow, it's "really" about class and status and money and identity. But the film doesn't actually sketch these things out, it trusts in the viewer's own ability to connect a few dots, as well as its own ability to provide accurate signals. Grodin lies to get what he wants, and he wants what he does in order to believe more lies. The Graduate is a fine little object on many of the same issues, but this one is ten times the film, for my money.

The Farrelly Brothers (whose films I like, by the way, though I haven't kept up with their last few) are remaking this with Ben Stiller. I don't know how to feel about that.


Alex said...

Yes, I absolutely love this film too. But I do think the audience is being given plenty of hints that Grodin's character was always primarily about getting more status (even if he couldn't quite overtly grasp that that was his goal).

Girls who look like Cybil Shepard from Minneapolis vacationing in know that their families have high social status and got plenty of money.

The really uncomfortable thing is the implication that what Grodin wants is NOT only more lies. We see that he's very quickly moving adeptly in a wealthy milieu. The reality is those contacts and that milieu do translate into very concrete wealth, status and power.

Jaime said...

THE HEARTBREAK KID is indeed great. I actually hated it while I watched it and only realized it was great the day after I saw it. Which was odd.

FEVER PITCH...I didn't think it was major, but it's very strong and has more in common with STUCK ON YOU and SHALLOW HAL than its synopsis might let on. What I like about the bros. is that their films work hard to resolve relationship issues, and that their hard work underwrites the films' pleasing goofiness, which others have taken to be superficial.

To stick my neck out and to be bluntly optimistic, the HEARTBREAK KID remake will bring them closer to Rohmer than they've ever been. And May's film has in some ways an anti-Rohmer script. (It works itself *away* from resolution.)

Anonymous said...

I need to see this again -- and wonder why no one's mentioned that the script is by Neil freakin' Simon! (Based on a Bruce Jay Friedman story, which makes more sense.)

I remember liking the way Eddie Albert says "horseshit."

Not too thrilled about Farrellys, but I hope at least they have the guts to ditch their trademark optimism; it's definitely not called for here.

ZC said...

Alex, I agree that the audience is given plenty of hints, but I don't think it's relentlessly spelled out in the way that a similar film from most other periods in Hollywood would have been (almost) required to do. It's not that the question of wealth/class/status is elided--we don't even have to infer that Shepard's family is rich, she tells Grodin (us) pretty quickly. Do you think Grodin really moves adeptly in this new WASP world, though? Both times I've watched the movie I've felt that Grodin "made it," he joined the club, but he's stuck in a new kind of rut. Admittedly the film doesn't solve it one way or the other for us, it's a matter of what impressions we get and what conclusions we draw from the material before us ...

Jaime, I'm trying to think of examples of films that I hated while I watched them but then turned around and loved upon a little reflection. I knew there are a couple but I can't remember off the top of my head. I looked up the Farrellys on IMDB and realized that the only directorial effort of theirs I missed was Fever Pitch, and being a newish Arsenal fan, I really should read that book, then see the first film version, and then see the Farrelly formulation. (I thought that they had directed one or two more of the recent ones they'd really only produced.) I like Stuck on You (recall what Bill Krohn said: "Bitchun flick") and Shallow Hal quite a bit though, of course, as we've no doubt talked about in the past.

Bill, I haven't felt that the Simon script is actually that impressive; I could see it going a totally conventional route in someone else's hands. Not saying it's a bad script, and surely it provides some of the skeleton for May's and the actors' brilliance--but most everything special is in the relationships between character and figure, the rhythms, the facial expressions ... that's one reason why I'm still anxious about a Farrelly treatment. It's not the basic material per se that I think "works."

Aaron W. Graham said...

The casting of Grodin was really fortuitous in the way it happened. According to one of Grodin’s books, he was initially hired for the stage adaptation because he had been friends with Bruce Jay Friedman, and then quickly fired by same when the author realized he wanted to portray the role himself. The two then fell out, and the play flopped. He then auditioned for the film when it was announced, and amazingly got the part, despite his now non-existent relationship with Friedman.

As for the Farrellys’ take on the material: I’m glad it’s them and not someone else (my favourite of theirs: STUCK ON YOU), though that’s a point well taken regarding that it’s not the source material that makes it great, but the singular moments characterized by the actors and their reactions to such an unconventional predicament.

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