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Papa Don’t Take No Mess

no deceit

Pizza .. how did you know?
– Jeannie Berlin to Charles Grodin in “The Heartbreak Kid”

So I’m kicking it with a few friends in New York a month or two back, and one of them mentions that he’s a huge Charles Grodin fan. “The Heartbreak Kid,” I say immediately and without hesitation, and am overcome with horror when he returns a less than completely knowing look. “What’s that ?” the guy asks. “Is he in it ?” I’m not one to carelessly pass judgment, but claiming to be a huge Charles Grodin fan without having seen The Heartbreak Kid is a little like heading the Charlton Heston Fan Club without having ever gotten around to Ben-Hur. It’s akin to leaving Barney Fife off the ballot in the Single Bullet Hall of Fame. It’s along the lines of writing The Definitive History of Center Field without making mention of Willie Mays. I could go on ..

I assure the guy that Grodin’s in it, and pull out my copy with the standard disclaimer about its rightful place in film history, and that the 2007 Ben Stiller remake can be found in the dictionary next to the word sacrilege. I quote a few memorable lines from the movie. (OK .. I do about ten minutes word for word before both of them start to look really uncomfortable.) He thanks me and takes the DVD, assuring me that they’ll get around to it soon. Cut to three weeks later. I’m over at their house and see the movie on the shelf. I ask them if they’ve watched it yet and he says yes, but there’s hesitation in his voice. “We thought it was good,” he says .. and then he trails off.  She comes in from the kitchen to finish his thought. “It’s just that ..” she begins, and then stops. I insist that she go on. “Well,” she continues, “the whole time we were watching we couldn’t get it out of our heads – ‘this is Rick’s favorite movie.’ ”

I’m not certain that The Heartbreak Kid is my favorite movie of all time – but it’s up there. It’s definitely my favorite unsung movie of all time, and I do make a point of recommending it to the uninitiated. It’s rarely what they expect, and despite its comedy tag can be an uncomfortable viewing experience, particularly for couples. On the surface, it’s a film about a Jewish guy who decides he should be married and rushes in to wedlock with an egg salad loving young woman. Then, on their honeymoon in Miami Beach, he runs in to a shiksa goddess (played by the stunning Cybil Shepard in the prime of her Last Picture Show beauty) and decides that he has to get out of the marriage. Except that’s not what it’s about. I won’t attempt to nail it here, but Roger Ebert was kind of on track when he said it’s about “how we do violence to each other with our egos.” But that doesn’t cover it either. Personally, the film has served use for me as a select, individual barometer. If someone gets it, chances are we’ll get along. If they really get it, possibilities are even stronger. I used to be a huge David Letterman fan, but have grown tired of him in recent years. My one thread of hope for the guy, however, is a comment he makes every time he has Charles Grodin on his show. “You know what’s a great film that you did ?” Letterman will ask, as Grodin looks on with beleaguered expectation. “The Heartbreak Kid .”

My parents got back from a cruise recently and my father was commenting on the relationships between the various married couples they’ve known for over forty years.  For some reason, this made me reflect on the above mentioned Heartbreak Kid remake with Ben Stiller. There is still one slim hope for laying this abomination to rest and getting the collective bad taste out of the mouths of those who actually sat through it. (I, admittedly, wasn’t one. Suffering through a few torturous clips was enough to convince me to stay away.) Somebody should scrape together the funds to do a genuine follow-up to the original film. Thirty-seven years have passed, but the principal actors – Grodin, Shepard, Jeannie Berlin – are all still alive, as is director Elaine May.  It would likely disappoint,  but there’s sublime potential for riveting continuity. If by some miracle they hit the ball out of the park, it would be the greatest comeback since Mickey Rourke’s return last year in The Wrestler. With all the crap they’re throwing money at these days, I’d say it’s definitely worth the chance.

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