The Remake Question, episode three

I’ve written two posts so far discussing a good movie about to get the Hollywood remake treatment, and whether I thought that was a promising idea. For both 3:10 to Yuma and Halloween I felt that there was compelling evidence that the new version would have worth, but I haven’t yet been able to confirm or deny my thoughts. Today is the opening of yet another high-profile remake, The Heartbreak Kid, and this time I’m not at all optimistic about the prospects for a good movie.

heartbreak1.jpgThe original: released December 17, 1972, written by Neil Simon from the story by Bruce Jay Friedman, directed by Elaine May.

The premise of this film is so perfect in its simultaneous comedy and tragedy that I am not at all surprised someone wants to visit it again. Lenny (Charles Grodin) has just married Lila (Jeannie Berlin). It becomes immediately clear to both Lenny and the viewer that he has made a terrible mistake. On their honeymoon, Lila sustains a blistering sunburn and must stay in the room for a couple of days. On the beach without her, Lenny meets Kelly (Cybill Shepherd). She is the girl of his dreams.

Everything that happens after that point serves two purposes: to be as cruelly funny as possible without actually causing us to actively dislike the characters, and to lead the way to the answer to the film’s ultimate question: why would Lenny ever have gotten himself into this marriage in the first place? It’s a movie about everyday neurosis, the things desire can drive someone to do, and the thing that romantic comedies don’t address: what happens after you get the girl.

Beyond the first few minutes of this movie, once the premise is set, nothing that happens is predictable. Yet there is an encompassing feeling of inevitability surrounding every stupid thing that everyone does. The tone is remarkable. And the final scene brings exasperating clarity to that ultimate question of why all of this happened in the first place, and does it with restraint and subtlety. It is one of my favorite movie endings, though it lives up to that word “heartbreak” in the title.

heartbreak2.jpgThe remake: releasing October 5, 2007, directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, written by a whole mess of people, it seems.

The Farrelly brothers are capable of being very, very funny. They have shown this especially in the sweet and disgusting There’s Something About Mary, which should always be regarded as a classic. But the trailer for their Heartbreak Kid has absolutely nothing funny in it. That’s concern number one.

Concern number two involves that all-important theme so brilliantly dealt with in the original: why our main character got into this marriage that is so clearly wrong, and why he thinks this new girl can fix his life. In a Farrelly brothers movie, there are no whys. It will all be clear right from the beginning. Their Lenny, now called Eddie (Ben Stiller), will marry their Lila (Malin Akerman, aka Freakshow’s wife Liane, gotta love that at least) because she is young and hot and seems fun. But mostly because she is young and hot. And he will fall in love with his Kelly, now called Miranda (Michelle Monaghan, on whom, it should be disclosed, I have a massive girl crush), because she is young and hot and seems fun, but in a nice, warm, stable way this time. We will dislike Lila because she is bat-shit crazy, and probably won’t have any of the sympathy you can’t help but have for the irritating but well-meaning version of this character in the original. We will never have to question why Eddie is doing the things he does. There will be no revelations in this movie, no commentary about something greater than itself.

Without a promise of either comedy or pathos, why would I part with ten dollars?


2 Responses to “The Remake Question, episode three”

  1. 1 Carly October 14, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    do you take requests? if so, my question for your next remake episode is, what do you think of the current trend of hollywood studios remaking recent foreign films for american audiences, with what is invariably a butchered script and flashier production? i.e. J.Lo and Richard “Tool” Gere trampling through “Shall We Dance” before the original was even a decade old, and Catherine Zeta-Jones and the generally likable Aaron Eckhart attempting to ride the gourmand trend and remake the charming “Mostly Martha” into a Manhattan cook-off, as best as i could tell from the preview. i haven’t seen the remakes, i just like to bitch about how people are too lazy to read subtitles. thoughts?

  2. 2 celeberrimous October 18, 2007 at 10:24 am

    I agree with you on this point, though I haven’t seen the movies you brought up. Sometimes you can get a good movie by doing this (The Ring, for example) but more often if people had just seen the original, they’d be more satisfied. I’ve been trying to get people to see Infernal Affairs, the movie that The Departed was based on. It’s a little less stylish, but overall I like it much better: it’s tighter and avoids all of the plot points I thought were weak in The Departed. And I saw it AFTER The Departed, so it’s not just a question of thinking whatever you saw first is better. Good topic.

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Other projects:

Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

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