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Film / The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

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The Heartbreak Kid is a 1972 romantic comedy-drama film with a darkly satirical edge, directed by Elaine May and scripted by Neil Simon, who adapted Bruce Jay Friedman's short story "A Change of Plan".

Charles Grodin plays Lenny Cantrow, a sporting goods salesman who marries a Nice Jewish Girl named Lila Kolodny (Jeannie Berlin) after a very brief courtship. While they're on their honeymoon in Miami, Lila's odd habits, neuroses, and general awkwardness become increasingly unbearable, and Lenny soon comes to realize that he doesn't actually love her or even like her very much. When he sees blonde WASP goddess Kelly Corcoran (Cybill Shepherd) on the beach, Lenny is instantly enchanted and goes all-out in pursuit of her, not letting the fact that he's married get in the way.

The film was remade in 2007 by the Farrelly Brothers with Ben Stiller, Malin Åkerman and Michelle Monaghan in the main roles.

"There's no deceit in these Tropes":

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Lila for Lenny—although there really isn't anything wrong with her. The main reason she's abhorrent is that Lenny figures out too late that he doesn't love her.
  • Actor Allusion: Filmgoers who had Cybill Shepherd's acting debut as the pretty-but-manipulative Jacy in The Last Picture Show fresh in their minds in 1972 would've been amused to see that Kelly is a more intelligent (and comical) variation of that character type.
  • "Begone" Bribe: In the film's climax, Mr. Corcoran literally offers to write Lenny a check in any amount he'd like to leave Kelly alone. Lenny turns the offer down.
  • Betty and Veronica: Lila and Kelly.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Lenny marries a beautiful, wealthy young woman but basically ruins his life in the process.
  • Captain Oblivious: Lila
  • Commitment Issues: Lenny's real problem is that he likes chasing after women but doesn't particularly like catching them. His rather indifferent demeanor at the reception for his wedding to Kelly hints that he won't be any happier in this relationship than he was in his last one.
  • Creator Cameo: Neil Simon is a guest at the wedding.
  • Cringe Comedy:
    • Lenny's breakup with Lila is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, particularly because Lenny Cannot Spit It Out and Lila keeps Comically Missing the Point.
    • Lenny's confession to Kelly's parents about his marital status is fraught with comedy and dramatic tension. He spends the entirety of the conversation practically filibustering as he goes through his audacious plans to divorce his wife and marry their daughter. Meanwhile, Kelly's father can be seen tightening up and seething as his mild distrust of Lenny quickly turns into boiling rage and Kelly's mother just stares with a shocked expression, her mouth agape.
  • The Determinator: Lenny, to the extent that Kelly's parents both comment on it.
  • Disposable Fiancé: In Lenny's case, Disposable Bride.
    • Not really fiancés, but Kelly's college boyfriends end up in this category.
  • Embarrassingly Painful Sunburn: What happens to Lila after spending an entire day on the beach, sans sunblock.
  • Everybody Loves Blondes: Lenny becomes almost instantly obsessed with Kelly, who has long blonde hair, after marrying the brunette Lila.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: It seems Lenny married Lila just to have sex with her. He regrets it immediately.
  • Hair-Contrast Duo: Lenny's wife Lila has dark curly hair, while his mistress, new obsession, and ultimately second wife, Kelly, has straight blonde hair.
  • Hurricane of Excuses: How Lenny explains to Lila why he's gone so long. She's trusting enough to believe him.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: As listed in the opening credits, "Neil Simon's The Heartbreak Kid, an Elaine May film." Simon usually got this possessive billing during his screenwriting heyday. Interestingly, this is one of the very few films that Simon either didn't adapt from one of his own plays or write directly for the screen (it's based on a short story by Bruce Jay Friedman).
  • Minor Flaw, Major Breakup: Lila is a veritable symphony of minor flaws.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: When Lenny shows up in Minneapolis to woo Kelly, she invites him to her family's summer house "in the mountains." The only real mountains in Minnesota are near the Canadian border, a several-hour drive away.
  • Papa Wolf: Kelly's father (Eddie Albert) takes an instant disliking to Lenny, which eventually blossoms into seething hatred. He tries numerous times to keep him away from his daughter, even resorting to bribery at one point.
  • Popularity Cycle: Lenny almost obsessively gloms onto new women because he's too commitment-phobic. He becomes fixated on Kelly while on his honeymoon with Lila, but Kelly soon starts to irritate him too.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Lenny gets more than one from Mr. Corcoran. It doesn't stop him.
  • Recurring Riff: Various versions of "Close To You", which get more and more ironic as the film goes along.
  • Revealing Hug: Lenny's empty stare as Lila nestles up to him after sex reveals how much he didn't enjoy it. Then her other habits start to irritate him.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: Lenny, thanks to being The Determinator manages to finally marry Kelly. But he faces a dim future with her. Her family still hates him, and she seems likely to continue her Really Gets Around ways. Plus there's no indication that he's ready to resolve his own Commitment Issues either.
  • Shiksa Goddess: Jewish Lenny falls hard for blonde, blue-eyed Kelly ... while on his honeymoon.
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Lenny's obsession with Kelly ends up in this territory, to the point that he turns down a bribe from Kelly's dad to leave her alone.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" played at both weddings. Also, Art Metrano singing his infamous "da-da-DA-DA" song in the background during Lenny's awkward first meeting with Kelly's parents at the dinner theater.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • Has many common threads with Elaine May's previous film A New Leaf, which also centers around an Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist who ends up in a relationship with an awkward, klutzy woman who he finds annoying.
    • Like The Graduate, it's a cynical comedy about a nebbishy guy's romantic misadventures directed by half of the Nichols & May comedy team. Charles Grodin in fact turned down the role of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate. Also, both films have one of the Ropers in a supporting role (Audra Lindley played Kelly's mother, while Norman Fell was the landlord in The Graduate).
    • Lenny Cantrow is an important comedic ancestor of George Costanza.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Lenny at times, like when he travels hundreds of miles to find Kelly on her college campus. In the end he gets her to marry him out of sheer persistence.
  • Stalking is Love: Kelly ends up marrying Lenny after his stalking campaign, though whether she really loves him is open to question. While he does believe that he loves her, he soon comes to regret it...after marrying her.
  • Summer Romance: Lenny falls in lust with Kelly while spending the summer in Miami Beach, on vacation with his new wife, Lila. The two have a brief, intense affair, though Lenny follows her to college and bothers her into giving him another chance. This shows the dark side of the summer romance, as Lenny does end up marrying Kelly that fall or winter, but almost immediately regrets it and realizes he made a huge mistake.
  • Tranquil Fury: Kelly's dad is a Stoic Midwesterner who gets stretched to his Rage Breaking Point by Lenny. Eddie Albert's masterful slow burn in his scenes with Charles Grodin is a highlight of the film.
  • The Trope Kid: The Heartbreak Kid
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: With barely a shred of remorse, Lenny dumps his nebbish (yet loving) wife less than a week into their marriage.
  • Woman Child: Lila has a notable lack of maturity. She pouts when she doesn't get what she wants, lacks table manners, and talks about having to "go pee-pee".
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: Lenny loses interest in Lila as soon as he's married her, then obsessively pursues Kelly, and loses interest in her as soon as he has her.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The three leads are all very self-deluded: Lila thinks she's the blushing bride embarking on her Happily Ever After, Lenny sees himself as a smooth-talking plucky underdog who's gotten a second chance at happiness, and Kelly affects the persona of a cool, seductive Femme Fatale. They all play these roles to the hilt, even as it complicates matters to a huge degree.