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ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May$
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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Dean Brandum

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781474440189

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474440189.001.0001

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“Don’t Put A Milky Way in Someone’s Mouth When They Don’t Want It”: A Contemporary Feminist Rereading of Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

“Don’t Put A Milky Way in Someone’s Mouth When They Don’t Want It”: A Contemporary Feminist Rereading of Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

Chapter:
(p.104) Chapter 5 “Don’t Put A Milky Way in Someone’s Mouth When They Don’t Want It”: A Contemporary Feminist Rereading of Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
Source:
ReFocus: The Films of Elaine May
Author(s):

Clem Bastow

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474440189.003.0006

Is it possible to reclaim certain works as part of the feminist film canon, even if they were never intended as such? If Elaine May ever self-identified as a feminist, her public stance on the topic was one of comical obfuscation. This chapter reclaims May’s second film The Heartbreak Kid from the second-wave feminist critiques that dismissed it as sexist. It reads the film through a contemporary feminist lens, specifically looking at May’s framing of key scenes within the film as a representation of the ‘female gaze’. It looks closely at the contentious character of Lila (played by May’s daughter, Jeannie Berlin), who has been dismissed as many critics as a caricatured representation of Jewish womanhood, as key in May’s critique of both the character of Lenny and the filmic canon of her male contemporaries. May looks beneath the caricature represented by Lenny’s resentful and self-loathing gaze, and finds the humanity within Lila.

Keywords:   Elaine May, Women’s Filmmaking, Women Directors, Comedy, The Heartbreak Kid, Laura Mulvey, The Heartbreak Kid (film), Romantic Comedy, Second Wave Feminism, Jewish comedy, Jeannie Berlin

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