Monday, July 22, 2013

"Art Versus Heart"

In a recent chat with a young friend, the film The Heartbreak Kid entered the conversation, and being under twenty-five, she was naturally referring to the Heartbreak Kid remake starring Ben Stiller (2007), rather than the original Heartbreak Kid starring Charles Grodin (1972.)   

Both movies were inspired by a short story of the same name, written by my favorite short story writer Bruce Jay Friedman, though I cannot cite the date the story was published or where to find it, because Google covers both movies extensively, but neglects any mention of their originating source.

I remember being jolted by Friedman’s premise, finding it simple and resonating, at least in the darker recesses of one’s thinking process. 

The idea for the short story was this:  What if you met the girl of your dreams on your honeymoon (with, it may be redundant to mention, a different woman)?

I recall seeing the 1972 version in the theater.  I was accompanied by… well, it doesn’t matter, let’s just say there was more than a casual interest.  It is likely that I strongly recommended seeing the movie, as I was a fan of the short story, and was curious and excited to see how the cinematic version would handle things. 

I can understand the filmmakers thinking it was a funny idea for a movie, if by funny we include “excruciating uncomfortable.”  This is traditionally a place, perhaps the most typical place, that comedy comes from – monumental discomfort.

The thing is, the short story runs maybe ten pages.  A movie, by contrast, is around two hours long.  This means that, when you’re making the movie, you have to expand the narrative, filling in the gaps to include scenes and moments the originating short story necessarily skips over. 

One of those gaps involved the newlywed husband’s breaking the news to the newlywed bride that the marriage is over because he has fallen in love with somebody else.  As I recall, the short story covers the matter in something like one sentence, or maybe just an introductory clause.

This isn’t it, but it was like,

“After breaking the news to (the newlywed bride’s name) – and believe me it was no picnic – I proceeded to devise a strategy to win over (the girl of his dreams.)”

It was around this point in the movie that my companion abruptly departed for the Ladies’ Room. 

Later, when we were leaving the theater, she informed me that on the way back to her seat, she had stopped to scream at the theater manager,

“Why do you show such terrible movies!”

(Supplementary Ethnic Sensitivity Addendum (not a dominating issue in the short story):  The newlywed bride was unmistakably delineated as Jewish; the “girl of his dreams” – Cybill Shepherd.  My companion of the evening was of the former lineage.)

The memory of this experience triggered a recollection of a considerably more recent vintage:

A few months ago, while attending a luncheon featuring a world-famous Guest Speaker, I found a funny idea playing out in front of me. 

A renowned economist was lecturing before a rapt and respectful audience on the subject of American economic policy, offering his expert prognosis on the direction of the economy and the commensurate opportunities for advantageous investment. 

As he spoke from the dais, an attractive female photographer sitting directly in front of him, was snapping pictures, while attired in the microest miniskirt I have ever seen in my life. 

As I listened to this advisor to several presidents holding forth on weighty and serious matters related to the debt, the deficit and the imminent possibility of runaway inflation, my most dominating thought at that moment was,

“How can this guy concentrate?”

Leading to Thought Number Two:

This is material for a blog post.

Which I dutifully penned shortly thereafter. 

Though perhaps, I’m thinking now, I should not have.

In his writing modality of choice, Bruce Jay Friedman was protected by the inevitable short story gloss-overs.  The Heartbreak Kid filmmakers, who were required to “open things up”, and me, expanding literarily on a “snapshot”, by contrast, were not.  In the process of “filling in the gaps”, we may have missed the bigger, and more significant, picture.

We were focusing on the “funny.”

The thing is, if your audience sees things a different way,

They are not going to laugh. 
Two days ago, we took off for the country.  I left stuff for you to read, though I may also write while I'm away, I'm not sure.  Our cabin apparently had mice, and they may have eaten the wifi.  If you can eat wifi.  But I might just be lazy, and recharge.

If you need me, I'll be on Chickadee Trail.  Don't tell the Mormons. They once knocked on our door, and I let them in.  It was crazy. They could have been serial killers dressed as Mormons.  When I told them we were Jewish, the Mormons went away.  Though they could have been serial killers who like Jews.

I'll see you when I get back.  Have an enjoyable two weeks.

And keep reading.



JED said...

I hope you are enjoying your stay in the country. If the wifi hasn't been eaten by the mice, you can go to the link following this sentence to read the short story "A Change of Plans" by Bruce Jay Friedman.

That's why you couldn't find much information about it. The name was changed for the film. I did enjoy the 1972 film but it was an uncomfortable enjoyment. Kind of like my uncomfortable laugh when Dick Van Dyke trips over the ottoman.

JED said...

It looks like I renamed the story, too. I assumed Mr. Friedman had more than one plan to change. I was wrong.

Oliver Wendell Douglas said...

Story, as JED pointed out, is A Change of Plan, and was 1st published by Esquire, Jan. 1966. I came across this information on his son's blog:

Then I came across a podcast of Bruce actually reading (and chatting about) his story:

Interesting and entertaining. Interestingly (sort of), his son, Drew, claims no familial association with Bruce anywhere on his blog, at least not that I noticed.

You need to carry a cell phone w/a camera so you can document such important observations as the mini-skirted photographer and share with us.

Enjoy your vacation!

Frank said...

I'm going to use that I'm Jewish line the next time I run into Mormons. Cheers and happy holidays!

Jim said...

How I love Friedman!

My first exposure to him was the performance of his play "Steambath" on PBS in 1973 with Jose Perez, Bill Bixby and Valerie Perrine. But then I came across what I've always considered his masterpiece, "The Lonely Guy's Book of Life". I don't think I've ever read anything funnier.