Ben's Top Pick for October
THE HEATBREAK KID (1972) - October 6
Charles Grodin, easily among my favorite actors of all time, recognized that The Heartbreak Kid (which became Grodin's breakout film) posed a risk. His character leaves his wife for a gorgeous young blonde ON THEIR HONEYMOON. Grodin is so good, so believable, both critics and fans presumed he was the kind of man who'd ditch his wife for Cybill Shepherd on day three of the marriage. "I find my character more frightening than funny," says Grodin.
Grodin uses that word--frightening--again when he describes the number of men who tell him they love the movie and identify with his character, Lenny. "I thought the character was a despicable guy, but I played it with full sincerity. My job isn't to judge it. If it weren't for Elaine May, I probably never would have had a movie career."
The Heartbreak Kid was just May's second feature as a director, but she infuses her characters--who were all playing "types"--with such intense humanity that the movie becomes unexpectedly honest, almost in defiance of its plot.
The rest of the cast is every bit as good as Grodin. Jeannie Berlin plays Lenny's bride--her annoying habits serving as the source of his instant marital frustration. Berlin is May's daughter, but she still had to test for the role. Screenwriter Neil Simon wanted Diane Keaton. But the part went to Berlin, and so did an Oscar® nomination.
Also Oscar® nominated was Eddie Albert, as Shepherd's conservative father, a Minnesota banker. The notion that his prized possession, his stunning daughter, might enter into a romance with a Jewish sporting goods salesman from New York who left his wife on their honeymoon is repugnant. But Albert plays his fury quietly, almost silently, and you'll feel his venom build as Grodin tries to bury him in an avalanche of BS during one of the great dinner table scenes of the 1970s. Grodin tries to woo Albert and his wife by telling them the meal they're serving is totally honest: "There's no deceit in the cauliflower," says Lenny.
It's actually one of two great dinner scenes in the film. The other features Grodin--who can go from zero to ten on the rage scale as well as any actor of his generation--in a gutless attempt to break it off with Berlin by placating her with the restaurant's legendary pecan pie.
All of it--the pecan pie, the cauliflower, Grodin, Berlin, Shepherd and Albert--leads to a sudden, surprising and satisfying ending to an underappreciated classic.
by Ben Mankiewicz