Elaine May’s sophomore feature, from an extremely sharp screenplay by Neil Simon, takes the broad slapstick-lite comedy of her debut A New Leaf and squeezes out a bit more intimacy with this tale of male impotency and headlong, devil-may-care desire. Starring fresh-faced Charles Grodin as man-child Lenny Cantrow, freshly married to the needy Lila (Jeanne Berlin, May’s real-life daughter) but caught in a web of longing and lacking all resoluteness—when he meets the alluring Midwestern college student Kelly (Cybil Shepherd) while on Floridian honeymoon. Kelly’s grouchy father naturally stands in the way of Lenny’s desires, although Kelly clearly longs to rebel at every step. A hilarious morality play of upper-middle-class shallowness, The Heartbreak Kid is a quintessentially America-in-the-70s comedy where anything goes. Archival 35mm print courtesy of the BFI Film Archive.
The movie doesn't constantly bow to Neil Simon's script (as most movie versions of his work do). Elaine May is willing to improvise, to indulge (and exploit) quirks in acting style, and to examine social hypocrisy with a kind of compulsive ferocity. It's a comedy, but there's more in it than that; it's a movie about the ways we pursue, possess, and consume each other as sad commodities. — Roger Ebert