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Feature Friday: “The Heartbreak Kid” (1972)

I know the world is getting better because I can now read X-Men comics on my computer (and touchpad!). But I know it’s getting worse because when I search for The Heartbreak Kid, Elaine May’s brilliant 1972 feature, I find mostly the Ben Stiller/Farrelly Brothers utter-shit version from 2007. So it takes some sorting.

The Heartbreak Kid was May’s second film, her followup to 1971’s A New Leaf (already featured on FF). I don’t know much about how well it did at the time. Shepherd had of course just scored a great success with her debut, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show (1971). Grodin’s career was picking up steam: he had just finished working with May’s former partner Mike Nichols on Catch-22 (1970); this was his first leading role. Critics liked it. I myself didn’t see it until a few years ago, because like most of May’s films, it’s often been difficult to find on video in the US. Now it’s up at YouTube, so the world’s getting better again.

I do know that, back in the day, people compared this film a lot to The Graduate; May seems to have encouraged that. (Among other things, Grodin was Nichols’s first choice for Benjamin Braddock.) And I like The Graduate fine (especially its last few minutes), but The Heartbreak Kid is clearly the better film. It’s one of the sharpest, funniest indictments of male immaturity—and how it can manifest itself through infidelity—that I have ever seen. No wonder eternal man-children like Ben Stiller and the Farrellys fucked it up.

The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

Directed by Elaine May

Written by Neil Simon and Bruce Jay Friedman

Starring Cybill Shepherd and Charles Grodin


  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

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