“My husband Otto was dyslexic,” recalls Elaine May’s sweet but ditzy character, May, in Woody Allen’s new film. “The only word he could read correctly was his own name.”
Ah, bliss. The return of an Allen trademark: a layered-in, conceptual one-liner counterpointing the hard narrative thrust of a scene. In this case, a scene in which both May and Allen’s characters are exercised about some criminal plans. The tossed-off gag gives the moment a shot more oxygen as only Allen can do, delighting in May’s surreal urgency unrelated to the crisis at hand.
[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]
It’s possible to see TheHeartbreakKid as a kind of funhouse mirror reflecting the foibles and delusions we all share to some extent. A glance into such a mirror may provoke healthy, rejuvenating laughter or the kind of wearily hip sniggering which passes, in some circles, for wisdom. Elaine May, Neil Simon (screenwriter), and Bruce Jay Friedman (who wrote the original story) have all been guilty in their time of making shallow incisions in the human psyche and calling these forays major surgery. Perhaps this is an occupational hazard for those who work within the purlieus of the sick joke, the genre of black humor, or the kind of New York–spawned drama that is too often slickly, pseudosophisticatedly dependent upon the diminution of human beings to the level of pathetic, momentarily amusing insects. TheHeartbreakKid is frequently pervaded by a certain nastiness, albeit the well-meaning nastiness of a child methodically taking a butterfly apart to see how it works—or a director pushing her characters to such extremes of behavior that they cease essentially to be human and become one-dimensional butts of cruelly extended jokes.