I've been defending The Heartbreak Kid ever since it hit theaters back in 2007, however, I didn't feel comfortable putting my argument in writing until having seen the original film. I've come across a handful of reviews and a number of moviegoers who chastise the Farrelly brothers for not having stuck closer to the iconic source material. I thought that perhaps after having seen the 1972 version, I wouldn't be as eager to sing the update's praises, but what happened is actually the opposite; seeing the original only made me appreciate the newer version even more.
For those out of the loop, The Heartbreak Kid, both the original and the Farrelly brother's film, is about a guy who marries a wonderful girl only to learn about a few new quirks while on their honeymoon. Actually, that's not all he discovers; our leading man finds a new girl, a better girl. Where the films veer in completely opposite directions is in the comedy. Think about past Farrelly films, the best and the worst. There's Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary, Shallow Hal and more. What do all of these films have in common? The humor is outrageous and that's exactly how The Heartbreak Kid remake was approached, which instantly differentiates from the original.
In fact, the first Heartbreak Kid isn't really laugh out loud funny at all; it's more of a dark comedy. The situation feels far more real. A guy really thinks he's found the woman of his dreams and takes the plunge too soon before he really gets to know her. It's a very genuine situation that every couple has to deal with at some point. Once the initial romantic bliss wears off, all of those peculiar habits start to creep out – the person has a thing for egg salad, she can't carry a tune or loves making circles in your chest hair after sex. At first, Lenny (Charles Grodin) is the one you feel sorry for, but when he starts canoodling with Kelly (Cybill Shepherd) and banishes Lila to the hotel room, you genuinely feel sorry for Lila (Jeannie Berlin). She really loves him. But that's not to say that Lenny isn't the film's hero; you can't help but to root for him the entire time. It's true love we're talking about here!
This isn't quite the case with the newer version. Everything is seemingly normal from the start. Just like the original, our hero, now named Eddie (Ben Stiller), has an idyllic experience with a beautiful woman and is confident she's the one for him. Well, also like the original, that turns out not to be the case, but, unlike the original, this Lila (Malin Akerman) doesn't just reveal a few bad habits, she goes psycho. The car ride sing-along goes from a plain old bad voice into a nonstop singing lunatic, 1972 Lila's request for Lenny to tell her how it feels mid-intercourse becomes sex mania and Lila's hidden secrets go from minor quirks to major problems. There's no juxtaposition; Lila is the lunatic and Eddie is 100% the victim and that's what makes this film funnier.
The 1972 film is more of a drama where as the 2007 version is a comedy through and through. The new version isn't supposed to feel realistic, it's just supposed to be hilarious and it is! I'll admit, a handful of a jokes fall flat. The weakest portions of the piece are those that involve the secondary characters namely Tito (Carlos Mencia), the resort's overfriendly concierge, and Miranda's family. But even in The Heartbreak Kid's laughless moments, it's still lighthearted fare and a film that keeps you smiling.
What makes it particularly memorable in the gigantic pile of romantic comedies out there is Akerman. Before Heartbreak Kid, I only knew her as Freakshow's wife from Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle. She certainly contributed to one of the most unforgettable moments in that film, but she was still only a minor character. Here, not only is she part of the leading trio, she's responsible for a significant amount of the film's humor. Actually, she's the source of most of it. After seeing her play the super serious Laurie Jupiter in Watchmen, the girl next door in The Proposal and the loving wife in Couples Retreat, going back and watching The Heartbreak Kid makes her performance even more outstanding. She goes from the perfect girl to a raving lunatic in an instant. Some may call this the 2007 version's downfall, but I call it comedic genius and a testament to Akerman's ability.
I'm not out to prove that The Heartbreak Kid is the perfect film because I certainly know it's not, but I do think it took far too harsh a beating. It has a great cast, is well directed, generally funny and overall, just an enjoyable experience. On top of that, it pays homage to the original, quite a lot actually. Yes, the new version may be a bit over the top as compared to the 1972 film, but the 2007 one is peppered with instances and dialogue that harken back to the past from "grouchy" becoming "Grouchy Marx" to the sunburn incident 2.0. The connection is there, they're just of two different genres. The new Heartbreak Kid isn't as funny as the Farrelly brothers best and it's not as genuine as Elaine May's version, but that doesn't mean it isn't enjoyable in its own way.