Mike Nichols and Elaine May once were the comedy team Nichols & May. Through the 1960s they appeared on television, had a show on Broadway directed by Arthur Penn, did commercials and released some of the best comedy albums ever made. But by the middle of the decade, Mike Nichols would be directing his first and best picture, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? Since then, he has gotten a lot of attention as a director having made such varied films as The Graduate, Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge (which I think is his second best feature), Heartburn, and many many others. But it’s been the films of Elaine May, four feature films that have struck me and stuck with me over the years.
When I was in fourth grade I began seeking out Charles Grodin movies. It was on this quest that I happened upon a VHS of Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid at a public library (a year and a half ago I had the privilege to see a film print of A New Leaf!). I liked the film. As I got older and wiser, roads kept leading me back to Elaine May’s films. And every time I saw, or re-watched one of her films, I liked it more and understood something new about it (this just happened when I saw Mikey & Nicky again two months ago). Mike Nichols’ films have never done this to me.
May’s films are more honest and real than she is given credit for. Her ability to create a character in collaboration with an actor is something uncanny, and only ever mentioned in the memoirs of Charles Grodin, or interviews with John Cassavetes and Peter Falk. So why doesn’t she enjoy the critical praise and unconditional fandom of Mike Nichols? I hope it’s not because she’s a woman; that would just be terrible.
So I ask that you give her a fair chance and seek out one of her films this weekend. I assure you it will be more than worth it.
The films of Elaine May-
A New Leaf
The Heartbreak Kid
Mikey & Nicky