Many happy couples believe in soul mates. They will assure your sorry, single ass that, no matter how bad it looks out there, when it comes to love — not just any love, but that magical, life-affirming spiritual unity that grows and matures and sustains you into vigorous old age and whatever version of heaven you choose — there is someone out there for everyone. Even you. All you have to do is find him or her. But if serendipity and geography play major roles in bringing couples together, then is it any less goofy to believe that everyone actually has several soul mates? And is there a happy couple on the planet who hasn't had times when they've imagined what life would be like with that special someone else out there?
At its worst, this serial inability to love the one you're with is awfully similar to the perpetual sense of possibility that most movies awaken and then squash. If the last relationship didn't work, maybe the next one will. If you didn't like Pirates 3, then maybe Sweeney Todd will be decent. Of course, if your thoughts turn too often to what might exist rather than what you have, then maybe you need to confront those impulses directly and see what they say about you.
The ramifications of this terminal dissatisfaction should be the main subject of The Heartbreak Kid, the new Farrelly brothers comedy. Ben Stiller, America's most enraged Everyman, plays Eddie Cantrow, a luckless bachelor who meets and marries Lily (Malin Akerman) in a whirlwind courtship. On their honeymoon in Mexico, he discovers that he and Lily aren't compatible financially, recreationally, and, in a couple of brutally weird and cheaply funny scenes, sexually. Soon, Eddie is spending too much time at the hotel bar with Miranda (Michele Monaghan) and thinking about how he's going to end his current marriage and get with his real sweetheart.
Before we go any further, let me ask this: How many current Farrelly brothers fans have seen Elaine May's stunning 1972 version of The Heartbreak Kid? Charles Grodin played the Ben Stiller role; May's daughter, Jeannie Berlin, was astonishing as Grodin's mismatched spouse; and a 22-year-old Cybill Shepherd was the dismissive, flirty ice princess who inspired Grodin to make the wife swap. That film, ostensibly a comedy, is a squirmy, unflinching look at the human consequences of such terminal indecisiveness and callowness. In fact, May's film is so icily logical and fearless, so resolutely adult in tone and attitude, that it's scarcely a comedy. It is, however, one of the great ignored films of the 1970s, and anyone who sees it is not likely to forget it.
The Farrellys, with their unwavering affection for the freaks, geeks, and perverts of the world, should have been a good choice to remake the film. With 2005's Fever Pitch, they also showed they could make a solid comedy for adults that is free of their typical gross-out gags. But this film is not for adults; it is for teenagers. Like Superbad, its gags are designed to alienate or derail any emotional engagement with the characters. (The conversation piece here is a money shot associated with a jellyfish sting.) The jokes are so far away from the characters' actions that the film is lost; so many comic firecrackers lit, so few explosions.
It's hard to grow up; it's harder to settle down. As the Farrelly brothers' latest film proves, it's hardest of all to break out of preconceived notions and even attempt a mature work.
The Heartbreak Kid