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Overall Rating

Awesome: 1.75%
Worth A Look: 15.79%
Average: 19.3%
Pretty Bad38.6%
Total Crap: 24.56%

6 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Heartbreak Kid, The (2007)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Hollywood Screws Over Elaine May Yet Again"
1 stars

Although she has always been revered and well-compensated in the film industry for her ability to write or clandestinely rewrite a screenplay, Hollywood and Elaine May have always had a much touchier relationship when it has come to her odd and infrequent forays into the director’s chair. Her first film, 1970's “A New Leaf,” found her in a battle with Paramount Pictures over scenes that were removed that she objected to so strenuously that she sued in order to have her name removed from the final version, even after it became a hit with critics and audiences alike. Her third film, 1976's mob-related comedy-drama “Mikey & Nicky,” raised eyebrows throughout the industry because of her elongated shooting schedule (she supposedly shot three time the amount of film needed to make “Gone With the Wind”) and a tortured editing process that led to major delays and budget overruns before its brief and fairly disastrous theatrical release. Her fourth, and to date last, directorial release was the infamous 1987 epic/punchline “Ishtar” and while her perfectionist attitude once again did her no favors within the industry, the fact that she and the film became unwitting pawns in the then-current battle for control of Columbia Pictures did more to doom it at the box-office that any cost overruns. (The hell of it is that while it has been unfairly tagged as an unwatchable disaster for over two decades, it is actually a brilliantly droll comedic riff on the unholy union of those two great American traditions–politics and show business–that is not just an underrated film but one of the great unsung films of the 1980's and a title that plays better and funnier with every passing year.)

For years, the one film of hers to escape from the studio system relatively unscathed was 1971's “The Heartbreak Kid”–significantly, it is also the one that she didn’t actually write. Nevertheless, it got out more or less as she wanted it and it went on to be a relatively popular film of the time and tends to hold a place of honor on most informed lists of the great American comedies. Alas, this one uncontested triumph on her directorial resume has now been besmirched nearly four decades down the line with a film now in release that purports to be a remake. I say purports because while it may have the same title and basic premise, the new version couldn’t be more different from the original if it tried in terms of quality. What was once a perfect example of dry, caustic and an indictment of casual misogyny has been cruelly debased into a gross, coarse and decidedly misogynist stew that is so resolutely unfunny that I suspect that May may now contemplate suing to get her name off of the original film so that future generations won’t look at it and think that she had even a vague connection to this monstrosity.

For those of you unfamiliar with the original, it starred Charles Grodin, in one of his very best performances, as a shmucky guy at a resort on his honeymoon with his new bride, a plain and deeply neurotic Jewish girl (Jeannie Berlin, May’s daughter, in a brilliant and Oscar-nominated performance), but after only five days, he begins to suspect that he has made a big mistake and that he can do much better than her (especially when he gets a load of her way with an egg salad sandwich). That suspicion is confirmed when he lays eyes on a cool blonde WASP (Cybill Shepard), who is on vacation with her family, and he instantly decides that she is the type of wife that he deserves to have. When his actual wife is struck with an epic case of sunburn and is confined to their room, he takes the opportunity to woo the WASP and ingratiate himself with her family before finally and cruelly dumping his wife in order to marry his dream girl. Although it may not have been designed to do this from the beginning–the film was based on a short story from Bruce Jay Friedman and adapted for the screen by Neil Simon–May transformed the material in a pointed shot at the narcissism that she perceived at the center of the hit film “The Graduate” (which was, perhaps not coincidentally, directed by her former stage partner Mike Nichols) and not just because she cast one of the original candidates for the role of Benjamin Braddock in the lead. Both films end the same way–the hero gets the girl that he wants, no matter what the cost–but when you spot Grodin’s character in the haunting last shot, you get a palpable sense that even though he now seems to have everything that he wants, it will never be enough for him and he will soon feel hollow as he did before encountering his prize.

Of course, you weren’t supposed to like the Charles Grodin character by any stretch of the imagination–he was a vain and self-absorbed monster through and through–but the notion of making a film with a lead character who might put off focus groups with his misdeeds is anathema these days and as a result, co-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly have gone about updating “The Heartbreak Kid” in such a way so that the hero is less of a cretin and more of a hapless Ben Stiller type that viewers can presumably warm up too easier. This time, our hero, Eddie (Ben Stiller, in an act of casting providence), is a loveable and lovelorn perennial bachelor who, as the film opens, lands himself in a whirlwind romance with the too-good-to-be-true Lila (Malin Akerman), a babe with a sweet disposition, a noble job as an environmental research assistant and the kind of body ordinarily seen only on the highest of high-priced swimsuit models. It seems like true love has finally come to Eddie and he impulsively proposes to Lila after only a few weeks and as they marry, he seems ready to begin his new dream life.

That dream quickly turns into a nightmare on their road trip to Cabo for their honeymoon as Eddie discovers some heretofore unknown quirks about his new bride–she isn’t the brightest bulb (perhaps forgivable), her “job” is really an unpaid volunteer position (perhaps less forgivable), her sexual kinks would raise the eyebrows of Larry Flynt (somewhat terrifying), a former cocaine habit has left her with a deviated septum that flares up whenever the film needs a quick gross-out joke (fairly repulsive) and has a tendency to sing along with every single song on the radio, even if there aren’t any lyrics to sing along with (completely unforgivable). While hanging out at the beach and despairing about the enormous mistake that he has made, Eddie meets Miranda (Michelle Monaghan), a sweet, charming and sexy lacrosse teacher who is on holiday at the resort with her entire family, and instantly surmises that she is the perfect girl for him and when Lila gets grotesquely sunburned and is confined to their room, Eddie contrives to spend as much time as possible ingratiating himself with Miranda and her family. Everything seems to be going swimmingly until the truth about his marital status comes out and he gets dumped by both women–since this is a Farrelly Brothers film, this revelation is accompanied by public humiliation, a jellyfish attack and someone urinating on Eddie. Inevitably, he learns the error of his ways and attempts to track down Miranda and convince her that he has become a newer and better person–since this is a Farrelly Brothers film, this only comes after an extended series of attempts to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border in scene that will remind some viewers of similar moments in “Fast Food Nation,” particularly in the number of laughs they earn.

As I have pointed out once or twice already, “The Heartbreak Kid” was co-written and directed by the Farrelly Brothers, a directing duo who have made a few good films (such as “There’s Something About Mary” and the brilliant and underrated “Kingpin”) and a lot of not-so-good ones (“Me, Myself and Irene” and “Fever Pitch” immediately leap to mind). This one, on the other hand, is so bad in so many ways that while you are watching it, you get the sense that they have never even seen a film before, let alone made one. Never exactly known for their cinematic craft, this film is put together with the kind of technical crudity that one normally associate with high-school twerps playing with Dad’s camcorder. There is no sense of rhythm or structure to any of the comedy on display–their preferred directorial approach seems to involve bolting a camera to the floor and encouraging the actors to scream as loudly as possible so that we know that they are supposed to be wacky. Of the actors, the only one who is even remotely watchable in Michelle Monaghan (you may remember her as the smart cookie at the center of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” or as Tom Cruise’s arm candy in “M:I 3") as the nice girl–she doesn’t really have much of anything do to except to pretend to be romantically interested in a guy clueless enough to make an anal rape joke to her extended family only a few minutes after meeting them, but the camera clearly loves her (even when it is wielded by the Farrellys) and she has the kind of on-screen personality that shines through no matter what the surroundings. As for the others, Stiller merely once again reprises his hapless and endlessly humiliate schmuck schtick, a conceit that he has been doing over and over again since hitting the big time with “There’s Something About Mary” and with ever-decreasing results and while Malin Akerman probably deserves some kind of good sport award for the grisly situations that she is forced to enact, her movie-long attempts to impersonate Cameron Diaz only serve to underline how funny Diaz was in “There’s Something About Mary” and how very far away this film is from that particular plateau.

Although their lack of any discernible cinematic finesse may hurt “The Heartbreak Kid,” what really does it in once and for all is the Farrellys’ insistence on embroidering the material the material with their patented mixture of sweet romance and smutty sight gags. Even if we ignore the fact that the shelf date on this particular innovation has long since gone by the wayside, it quickly becomes apparent that these two elements are exactly the things that the film doesn’t need.. By making Eddie into a likable guy and his betrothed into a depraved and deeply disturbed harpy, the entire point of the movie is subverted in ways that simply don’t make any rational sense. The very notion of a version of “The Heartbreak Kid” in which our sympathies are supposed to lie with the guy is so fundamentally wrong that even if the gross-out jokes worked, it would still leave a bad taste in the mouth. However, the gross-out jokes are pretty much non-starters as well–instead of laughing such allegedly outrageous moments involving queefing (look it up for yourself. . .on second thought, don’t) or south-of-the-border donkey acts (a gag which gets a deeply unfortunate reprise during the end credits), all you sense is the sheer strain of the Farrellys’ efforts to once again shock viewers into laughter instead of earning the laughs with actual wit. (Just in case you think I am being snobby here, I should point out that I saw the film at a promotional screening with an audience filled with ordinary viewers and the silence in the auditorium was absolutely deafening.)

“The Heartbreak Kid” is a truly terrible film–an ugly, hateful and deeply unfunny bit of hackwork that not only stinks on its own but also tarnishes the reputation of a genuinely funny and inspired comedy. However, I suppose that when it comes out on DVD, it could eventually serve as an important relationship tool. If you are wondering whether your prospective partner is right for you, you should show both versions to them. If he or she laughs at the former and sits stone-faced during the latter, it could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. If the opposite occurs, you should get out of the apartment right then and there and never come back, even if it is your place.

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originally posted: 10/05/07 14:19:38
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User Comments

6/07/09 art TOO LOW-BROW FOR MY TASTE! 1 stars
3/26/09 Anonymous. most of the jokes were misses..:P 2 stars
10/22/08 Shaun Wallner Fell asleep to this one. 2 stars
4/23/08 Jack Sommersby Admittedly entertaining and quite colorful and breezy. 3 stars
2/01/08 Bonny This was an okay movie, alittle funny and alittle stupid. 3 stars
2/01/08 mike Hilarious stuff! I loved this. Lighten up people! 5 stars
12/31/07 john doe Exactly what I expected: a raucous comedy romp aimed at the college age male- spot on! 4 stars
12/31/07 Jeff Anderson Relentlessly mean-spirited, unfunny & just embarrassing to watch! THE FARRELLY BROS. WORST! 1 stars
12/18/07 Thomas Pacheco Funny remake could have been better still worth the watch 3 stars
12/13/07 William Goss Neil Simon never needed a merkin - or Mencia - to make great comedy. 3 stars
11/30/07 Allison Lafferty Ben Stiller back on form reminiscent of TSAM. But unfortunately this story resolves nothing 3 stars
10/28/07 Brian Mckay Same kind of shit Stiller's been doing for years, but funnier that it had a right to be. 4 stars
10/22/07 Jamie Crass, Crude, unfunny, boring, disturbing 1 stars
10/18/07 Brad An Ok film..but I'm glad to see the Farellys return to the R rating! 2 stars
10/14/07 Marc imbecilic ugly fratBOY flaming turd on the doorstep WASTE of celluloid! 1 stars
10/11/07 Betsy Hendrick This is a hidious, unwatchable snore. 1 stars
10/10/07 D If I had to choose between seeing Norbit or this for a 2nd time, i'd have to think about it 1 stars
10/08/07 Private Poor pacing, overlong, forced and unfunny 2 stars
10/07/07 Matt Craven Fuck the Farrelly's, fuck Ben Stiller, and FUCK "Carlos Mencia" 1 stars
10/07/07 jazz Time to pack a lunch, Farrelly's... 1 stars
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  05-Oct-2007 (R)
  DVD: 26-Dec-2007



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