Elaine May Michael Tarantino - Essay

Michael Tarantino

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mikey and Nicky is a film about male camaraderie in spite of itself…. [It] is concerned with the fragile base upon which such relationships are built, rather than establishing the phenomenon itself. Thus, the emotional ties that have been formed through childhood and adolescence are taken for granted in order to concentrate on the differences which ultimately lead to betrayal: in this case, Mikey's sense of rational decorum as pitted against Nicky's predictable unpredictability.

May has managed the perfect blend, utilizing the improvisatory techniques of her actors in order to re-inforce the film's narrative thrust. As disjointed as it may seem, each stray piece of business belongs. Ultimately, the film's "look" reflects itself….

Whereas A New Leaf and The Heartbreak Kid suggested malaise, Mikey and Nicky delivers. It opens with Nicky stretched out in a seedy hotel, his ulcers killing him from lack of food. The editing is extremely disjunctive, frustrating the viewer's attempt to define the space. When Mikey comes to help, he is locked out. This becomes the leitmotif which joins the disparate pieces as the night winds down. However, from this point on, it is Nicky who is refused entrance—to his lover's, to his wife's, and finally, to Mikey's front door. By reinforcing a particular theme, May invites us to rethink the ways in which it has been used. Thus, the scene in which Mikey is locked out of Nicky's hotel room may be viewed in reverse—it is Nicky who is locked in.

It is only because of the film's rambling sense of narrative that these types of strategies are allowed to work. It is that rare American film which defines the event in terms of its own essence…. This is a film with a question at its center, rather than a multitude of answers. Did Mikey waver in his assignment to set his friend up for the kill? Despite his actions at the end, there are no easy solutions. He tells his wife to go to bed, as if it were all a bad dream. The night has been reduced to a split second, and has started all over again. (p. 11)

Michael Tarantino, "Elaine May's 'Mikey and Nicky'," in Take One (copyright © 1977 by Unicorn Publishing Corp.), Vol. 5, No. 8, March, 1977, pp. 10-11.