Charles Grodin

no lying in that beef… no insincerity in those potatoes… no deceit in the cauliflower

The Heartbreak Kid is another film I re-watched for the first time since I saw it in 1973! Jeannie Berlin is director Elaine May’s daughter, which I didn’t know, and didn’t seem to be a fact used to promote the film. Cruel mama had scads of humiliation in store for her girl. All that egg salad and sun cream!

Of course May was part of a comedy team with Mike Nichols thru the early 60s, and there are big similarities between this and The Graduate, which Nichols directed. Charles Grodin was offered the part of Ben before Dustin Hoffman took it on.

Not surprisingly there are some really hilarious scenes, and a bunch where the camera keeps rolling through the most cringe-worthy situations.

When I saw it, in ’73 at age 14, I only (sort of) knew the world of the Corcorans (as seen through the curtains). I might have caddied for the Eddie Albert character at the Minikahda Club, who likely would have been a jerk who gave me a “needs training” for not keeping up. Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”, a soft-focus story of a caddie dreaming of an unattainable girl, loomed large in my consciousness back then, and it lurks in the background in this film.

As a simple midwestern lad, raised Catholic, I really knew nothing about the New York milieu from which Grodin and Berlin’s characters sprang. Novel by Bruce Jay Friedman, script by Neil Simon. Gold standard! I could have/should have written a paper on this for Art Geffen’s great Jewish-American fiction grad seminar at the U of M.( I did Portnoy’s Complaint, so not far off….. That genius paper burned in the fire, alas).

Richard Brody in a 2016 retrospective review praises May’s portrayal of “the implausibly boundless sense of wonder, possibility, and entitlement of a time when even a self-proclaimed schmuck like Len, endowed with little but the gift of gab, attempted daring feats of self-liberation.” I would add that, from the ever-more precarious perspective of 2020, it’s striking to me that Lenny’s character is a two-bit salesman who can somehow afford a convertible sports car.

Final overly literal comment: Lenny parks his rental car right next to Northrup Auditorium to stalk Kelly. The closest parking spot is half a mile away!

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