Heartbreak Kid (1972): Elaine May’s Oscar-Nominated Serio-Comedy Starring Charles Grodin and Jeannie Berlin in Oscar Nominated Performances

Fox (Palomar Pictures International)

Based on a short story by Bruce Jay Friedman, “A Change of Plan,” adapted to the screen by the successfully commercial playwright Neil Simon, “The Heartbreak Kid” is Elaine May’s serio-comedic dissection of a triangle of characters, a young Jewish boy and the two disparate girls in his life, a modest, unattractive Jewish girl and a beautiful WASPish princess.

Perfectly cast, Charles Grodin plays Lenny Cantrow, a nice Jewish guy who marries Lila Kolodny (played by Jeannie Berlin, May’s real-life daughter), a nice Jewish girl. The twist here is that Lenny falls for Kelly Corcoran (Shepherd), a gorgeous WASPish princess, a Shiksa (to use a Yiddish word) after his marriage, during his honeymoon to be precise. What’s a nice Jewish boy to do

Touching on several cultural taboos and myths, both Jewish and WASPish, the aptly titled “The Heartbreak Kid” is vignettish and gag-ridden; the script is after all by Simon, who has specialized in such fare (both for stage and big screen).

At the time, some critics found it offensive, irritating, and borderline anti-Semitic. One reviewer asked, “Are all Jewish women so irritating” Is this another exercise in self-loathing, like Philip Roth’s ‘Portony’s Complaint'” However, seen from today’s perspective, May’s touch is both sardonic and ironic.

The performers are good, including Cybil Shepherd, coming right off her breakthrough role in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 Oscar-winning “The Last Picture Show.”

Charles Grodin would go on to become a major comic actor. Veteran Eddie Albert, as Shepherd’s disapproving father, earned a second Supporting Actor Oscar nomination; the first was for William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday,” in 1953. (See Below).

But the revelation here is Jeannie Berlin, who was also Oscar-nominated in the supporting league, playing a tough, unsympathetic role, a nudging Jewish girl, whose faults become all the more apparent when contrasted with the blond, blue-eyed shiksa. ( This is a theme that Woody Allen also explored in his movies with shiksas like Diane Keaton and then Mia Farrow).

Oscar Alert

Oscar Nominations: 2

Supporting Actor: Eddie Albert
Supporting Actress: Jeannie Berlin.

Oscar Awards: None

In 1972, the winners of the Supporting Oscars were Joel Grey for Bob Fosse’s musical “Cabaret,” and vet Eileen Heckart for the comedy “Butterflies Are Free.”

Credits

Produced by Edgar J. Scherick
Directed by Elaine May
Screenplay: Neil Simon, based on the short story by Bruce Jay Friedman
Camera: Owen Roizman
Editor: John Carter
Music: Garry Sherman
Art director: Richard Sylbert
Costume design: Anthea Sylbert