After the success with “A New Leaf” I was looking forward to “The Heartbreak Kid”, this being another Elaine May movie. Unfortunately for me it belongs to that particularly category of comedies where everything goes from bad to worse and we as supposed to love it. This works for many people, but not so well for me. I mentioned this in my review of “The Out of Towners” and, yeah, it is still an issue.
Lenny (Charles Grodin) is a New York salesman who is getting married to Lila (Jeannie Berlin, May’s daughter). It is one of those marriages where the couple hardly know each other going in (some cultures like it like that) and true enough, soon they realize, or at least Lenny realizes, that the other person is not exactly what was expected. Lila is annoying and borderline stupid, and Lenny is grumpy and mean. Their honeymoon is getting worse and worse and by the time they reach Florida, Lenny is not that much in love with Lila anymore.
At this point Kelly (Cybil Shepherd) shows up, a tall, blond and provocative girl who nudges Lenny enough to catch his attention and then he is sold. From now on he keeps Lila at a distance with all sorts of crazy stories while paying court to Kelly and her less than enthusiastic father (Eddie Albert).
It is impossible to root for neither Lenny nor Lila. Lila is too annoying and Lenny is a total dick. That does not mean it is not funny though. Lenny’s pursuit of Kelly is death defying for lack of a better word, juggling Lila and Kelly and trying to convince Kelly’s father of his honorable intentions. In the best scene of the entire movie Lenny is explaining in very sincere terms to Mr. Corcoran that he is newly married and on his honeymoon but made a mistake and now wants his daughter. This is of course completely outrageous and Mr. Corcoran is struggling not to explode. It is as if Lenny does not even understand how far out he is.
Similarly, when he takes Lila out to eat and to explain to her that he wants a divorce and actually think that this could have a good outcome, which of course it does not. Again, the sincerity explaining something completely outrageous.
Lenny is a madman, a stalker and lacking any sense of propriety. That is funny, but it is also completely impossible to watch. I am a bit strange when it comes to that. The deeper Lenny sank in his schemes, the less I was able to watch it. It is just not easy watching somebody dig their own grave, especially when they hurt people in the process.
Lenny actually gets all he wanted, despite all odds, only to find out maybe this was not what he wanted after all. A suitably bittersweet conclusion.
I really do not like watching people get themselves in trouble. I have to disentangle myself from the characters, tell myself Lenny is an ass and hoping he will get caught in his own schemes. That sort of works, but it is not easy. I cannot say I fully enjoyed “The Heartbreak Kid”, but I am also certain I am in the minority. It was popular enough that a remake was made in 2007 and that is probably the version most people will recognize.