Elaine May Stuart M. Kaminsky - Essay

Stuart M. Kaminsky

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[May's] films—A New Leaf and The Heartbreak Kid—deal with dependent weak characters…. [Her] characters, male and female, are equal and both weak in some major, emotional way. They meet out of mutual need …, fall in love and support each other's weaknesses…. The films are less generic satires than rather traditional romances or man vs. women comedies of courtship.

The protagonists are both openly neurotic victims who, like the protagonists of Woody Allen's films, triumph, achieve what they want, a love relationship earned through pain. Secondary characters in May's films are generally pragmatists …, people who use other people. However, May sees this social pragmatism as a neurotic weakness behind which people hide. For May, like Allen, open vulnerability and weakness are virtues compared to a false pragmatic front of security.

Her plots deal with men who see women as objects to be used to fulfill a fantasy or from whom to gain something pragmatic. In both cases, [Henry Graham] in A New Leaf and [Lenny Cantrow] in The Heartbreak Kid … start out by being pragmatists seeking wealth, sex or security from the women and finding their pragmatic facade stripped away so they can have a mutually dependent agonized relationship with a woman. In both films, the woman starts out as the victim and, in both films, triumphs. (pp. 62-3)

Stuart M. Kaminsky, "Eight Comedy Directors of the Last Decade," in Film Reader (copyright © 1975 The Silver Screen), No. 1, 1975, pp. 59-65.∗