The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
The Heartbreak Kid (1972) Movie Poster Image
Discussion-worthy '70s anti-romantic comedy.
  • PG
  • 1972
  • 104 minutes

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

Positive Messages

This is a morality drama with a marked lack of good role models. Leonard may strike some viewers as a complete creep because of what he does to his new wife -- with the qualifier that he'll willingly give her everything in his divorce settlement. Kelly, his replacement love interest, is teasing and flighty. Her father's hatred of Leonard may be part bigotry. And there's a negative body image message: Leonard dumps an average-sized woman for svelte Kelly (Shepherd was actually a fashion model at the time).


Two lovers strip naked to look at each other (a chaste sex game that involves getting as close as possible without touching); strategic shadows prevent us from seeing anything. Newlyweds shown non-explicitly undressed in bed on their honeymoon. Lila, who refused to have sex before marriage (in a roundabout way this is taken as a negative) tries to give her new husband Leonard oral sex in a car and thrusts her breasts (barely covered by her bra) into his face.



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Recreational drinking. Talk of characters being prodigious drinkers or suspected drug users and dealers.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is not the R-rated 2007 remake, which is full of slapstick, cartoonish characters, hit music, and exaggerated dirty jokes, but rather the more down-to-earth original from the early 1970s. It would probably earn a PG-13 rating today (no such thing in the '70s), for mild bedroom scenes, some stripping, talk of sex, and swear words, mostly uttered by a horrified prospective father-in-law. The ending is not exactly in line with traditional notions of good behavior being rewarded, bad behavior punished.

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What's the story?

Leonard Cantrow (Charles Grodin), a nebbishy sporting-goods salesman in his 20s, marries his girlfriend Lila (Jeannie Berlin) in a traditional Jewish ceremony in New York City. During the newlyweds' Miami honeymoon, Leonard begins noticing all sorts of things about Lila he doesn't like. When Lila gets a horrible sunburn and is confined to the hotel room, Leonard starts spending hours instead with Kelly (Cybill Shepherd), a sleek college-age blonde, vacationing from Minnesota, whom he met on the beach. Leonard begins telling increasingly outrageous lies to Lila to explain his absences. Kelly isn't upset when Leonard confesses he's married, and Leonard promises he'll inform Lila he wants a divorce.

Is it any good?

THE HEARTBREAK KID, at least in its first half, is a "romantic comedy" that seems to be the opposite of romantic, or traditionally comedic. Dark comedy is more like it. Unlike the 2007 remake, the original doesn't go for R-rated belly laughs but rather for the shocking absurdity and impropriety of it all, plus an ethnic-cultural angle absent from the Ben Stiller version. The plot is uncomfortable, but it does make rich discussion material with older children about relationships, commitments, and choices.

The squirming scene in which Leonard tells Lila he wants a divorce is the film's most affecting. As unappealing as Lila may be, she adores Leonard and she's being destroyed, while the salesman hero puts a "positive" spin on the devastating news. Viewers may feel some sympathy for Leonard as he confronts Kelly's stern father, who seems to harbor anti-Semitic feelings towards him. Though there's a twist at the end, you're left pondering what Leonard's given up. He seems to be wondering, too.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way Kelly tells cheating husband Leonard he's the "noblest" man she's ever met. Is she being incredibly dumb, or does she have a point? What has Leonard sacrificed because of his obsession with Kelly? What could/should the characters have done differently? What do you think will happen to them after the ending?

Movie details

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