Thursday, October 11, 2007

Little Read Riding Herd


Number 247

October 11, 2007


I haven’t reviewed any movies for quite a while, and there’s no real reason to review The Heartbreak Kid, but it’s interesting to compare remakes with original movies. I went to see the new version of The Heartbreak Kid because I remembered the original movie as being funny, in a peculiar way. I tracked down the 1972 version in a library and watched both movies this week. The basic plot: young man gets married, meets a girl he likes better on his honeymoon, dumps bride. The new version by the puerile Farrelly brothers seems like a different movie altogether. How and why was it changed? I’ll just tick off the differences.

||| The first movie alluded to the shiksa/goddess appeal of the waspy, blonde, spoiled rich girl, compared to the young Jewish bride, who promised to be a loving, if boring, wife and mother. The protagonist, Lenny Cantrow, married her in a traditional Jewish ceremony in New York, surrounded by family. His name was changed to Eddie in the new movie; the setting was San Francisco; the bride was blonde, the new girl was brunette. Maybe this has become a politically incorrect theme. But it’s important in defining the nature of love and desire for emblems of idealized, sunny success, which is not confined to any ethnic group. This idea is missing from the new movie, as is any idea.

||| In the new movie, Eddie gets married because his father and friend pressure him into it. In the original, Lenny gets married the way so many men used to get married, in response to sexual denial, which is so unlikely to happen now that it perhaps had to be changed.

||| Lenny is cold and heartless toward an innocent young woman. Eddie looks justified in turning against his bride, who is not only annoying, but is also an ex-cocaine addict and not gainfully employed.

||| In the original movie, the seductive Cybill Shepard knows Lenny is on his honeymoon, but finds it amusing to play with him. In the new movie, the new girl on the beach does not know he’s married, therefore she is a “good” character.

I could go on, but these are the main points, aside from the exaggerated crudeness of the Farrelly brothers’ movies, crudeness that can be funny but is basically the kind of obscene humor that appeals to 12-year-old boys.

So why these changes? The original movie followed a pattern that Fred noted was typical of the period, the “what’s it all about, Alfie” anomie of movies without a hero. The new movie has a protagonist who is in no way a hero either, but who draws a certain amount of sentimental empathy (who doesn’t like Ben Stiller?). The original comedy left you (or me) feeling a bit bleak. It seems to say that love is merely attraction to the unattainable, which Lenny manages to attain through persistence. Writer Neil Simon (who’s had five marriages) presumably was writing out of his own psychic experience.

The Farrelly brothers’ version has Ben Stiller chasing an idealized blonde girl as in their movie There’s Something About Mary, which also starred Stiller. The message of the new Heartbreak Kid is that the great goal of life is to live as if you’re on vacation year-round. This movie leaves you (or me) feeling disgusted, in the macro and micro.

The 1972 movie is a poor man’s Great Gatsby, where an ambitious young man, rather resentful at former slights against him as an ordinary working stiff (or in this case, perhaps as a Jew in wasp America, though writer Neil Simon does not make that too explicit), gets what he wants, which is an amoral rich girl. The new movie is about a 40-year-old boy who has no idea what he wants, or what’s right or wrong, and eventually suffers a bit (quite improbably crossing the border with illegal Mexican immigrants), and again marries and prepares to dump yet another woman in order to get what he “really” wants. The cultural divide here is between the hip San Franciscan and the borderline ridiculous religious southern whites.

I recommend that you see the first movie, if only for Eddie Albert as the wasp father who sees through Lenny’s attempts to feign sincerity (“There is no deceit in the cauliflower!). Don’t bother with the new one. Neil Simon is no Shakespeare, but the Farrelly brothers, 35 years later, together don’t make up a Neil Simon. The 1972 movie was about a man with no moral compass, whereas the new movie, like Jerry Springer, pretends the characters have one. As Bill R. wrote to me in regard to Overheard in New York, “Remember Virgil to Dante in the Inferno: ‘The wish to hear such baseness is degrading’.”


||| From a local feature about upcoming Dylan concert: “You and your colleagues go to lunch and imbibe in a few martinis.” Imbibe is a transitive verb, you imbibe martinis, not imbibe in martinis (unlike drink, which can be transitive or intransitive: drink martinis, drink in the view). The writer should have felt the im in imbibe, and felt the redundancy of adding in.

||| Overheard in the grocery store: “She likes the whole McCoy.” A mom was speaking about her little girl who likes lipstick, not just colorless lip gloss. A philosophical question: does “the real McCoy” imply wholeness? Is realness wholeness?


From Overheard in New York:

I Do Not Like War Stories with Contusions/I Do Not Like Myriad Literary Allusions

Chick: Have you ever read Catch 22?

Guy: Was it written by Dr. Seuss?

Chick: No.

Guy: Then no.

Overheard at Pace University


Adverbial Excess:

Dear Miss Manners:

As a gentle reader of a large newspaper, I have been observing what I think is a fairly new phenomenon, but one that seems to be on the rise. That is the practice of parents announcing a daughter's engagement by prefacing "announce" with such adverbs as joyfully or happily. Another variation is "are pleased to announce."

There was even an engagement acknowledgement where the giddy parents announced their "favorite daughter's" engagement. Guess this does not bode well for any other unmarried daughters. How will their engagements be announced: "Joyfully announce the engagement of our least favorite daughter?"

Will Miss Manners please comment on the appropriateness or lack therof?

Miss Manners didn't even care for the traditional formal announcement, which stated that the parents were honored (or rather, honoured) to make the announcement. The parents' emotions on this occasion, even the conventional and restrained ones of feeling honored, seem, well, a trifle defensive. We assume that they approve of the marriage, or they would have locked their daughter in her room.

Bursting out with their unrestrained joy, especially these days, smacks of relief. One conjures them thanking God that someone finally came along for their daughter, or that the father of their grandchildren finally proposed.

As for the favorite daughter part, Miss Manners can only hope that it was a grammatical error on the part of people who have only one daughter.


A beast is now someone who’s very good at something, as well as something hairy and scary. It’s also an adjective and a verb. “She beasted (took) your seat” means she took your seat. “Beast” can mean to dominate.


From Chuck, a new TV show about a computer geek:

I’m working on the new five-year plan for my life, but I haven’t found the right font.

How I empathize.

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