Heartburn

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Heartburn Movie Poster Image
'80s comedy-drama has mature themes, profanity.
  • R
  • 1986
  • 108 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The lead character shows endurance and resilience in the immediate aftermath of her failed marriage. There's a scene in which a nanny and a little girl are in a living room playing "Indians" that is culturally insensitive by today's standards.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Rachel Samstat is an independent woman doing her best to balance the demands of a successful writing career with the challenges of motherhood and marriage. When her marriage begins to fall apart, she displays resiliency and even a sense of optimism as she begins picking up the pieces.

Violence

A gun-wielding robber enters a group therapy session and robs everyone in the room. He puts a gun to the head of the lead character.

Sex

Adultery is a major theme. Affairs and cheating are frequently discussed.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "dyke."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink cocktails, wine, champagne, and beer at wedding receptions, parties, and barbecues. Characters smoke cigarettes and cigars.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Heartburn is a 1986 comedy-drama written by Nora Ephron that chronicles the collapse of a failed marriage due to a husband's extramarital affairs. Affairs and cheating are frequently discussed. There's a scene in which a nanny and a little girl are in a living room playing "Indians" that is culturally insensitive by today's standards. There is some profanity throughout, including "f--k," and a scene in which a gun-wielding robber (played by a young Kevin Spacey) enters a group therapy session and holds a gun to the lead character's head. Characters drink and smoke.

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What's the story?

Rachel Samstat (Meryl Streep) is a successful food writer living in New York City. At a wedding, she meets Mark Forman (Jack Nicholson), a Washington, D.C. columnist. The two hit it off, fall in love, and get married, despite Rachel's reservations about getting married once again and Mark's reputation as a ladies' man who avoids commitment. Rachel moves to D.C., and the newly married couple attempt to rehab a row house as they begin to start a family. Rachel has never been happier until she begins to suspect that Mark is having an affair. When she learns that her suspicions are true, she goes back to New York City with their baby (while pregnant with their second child) and begins to try to pick up the pieces of her shattered life, even as Mark makes an attempt at reconciliation.

Is it any good?

Excellent acting and an intelligent script keeps HEARTBURN from being lumped in with other 1980s comedy-dramas that haven't aged as well. Despite occasional forays into clichéd New York City parochialism -- at one point, Meryl Streep's character, about to move to D.C. from Manhattan, laments how, "You can't get a decent bagel in Washington, D.C.!" -- and the large glasses and big perms of the time, the film goes beyond its time and place to explore timeless themes of love, marriage, and infidelity.

The comedy and the drama perfectly balance each other out; the humor keeps the serious concerns from being too dour, and the drama keeps the movie from being too lighthearted or meaningless. The result is a poignant exploration of life before, during, and after a marriage that somehow finds hope in the face of cynical despair. It's when these issues -- marriage, monogamy, fidelity -- are confronted head-on that Heartburn attains a timeless relevance. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's themes. How are marriage, love, infidelity, motherhood, and the work/life balance explored throughout this movie?

  • The screenplay was written by Nora Ephron and is based on her book of the same title, inspired by her marriage to Carl Bernstein, one of the two Washington Post journalists best known for uncovering the Watergate scandal. What do you see as the challenges in creating movies or books rooted in autobiography? How would this movie be different if it were told from the husband's viewpoint?

  • This movie came out in 1986. If it were to be remade in contemporary times, what aspects do you think would be done differently? What would remain the same?

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