★★ / ★★★★
Rachel (Meryl Streep) and Mark (Jack Nicholson), both single and successful, meet at a wedding. Rachel, a food critic, cannot help but notice Mark’s aggressive glances every time she looks his way so she asks her friends about him. It turns out that Mark is a hot shot columnist and has a certain… reputation with the ladies. The next thing she knows, he asks her for a drink, she coyly accepts, and they are married.
“Heartburn,” based on the novel and screenplay by Nora Ephron, surprised me because even though its core is about a wilting marriage, it is very much in touch with the effervescent angle of their relationship. That is, the comedy in the details of what Mark and Rachel share which show us that, at least for a time, it makes sense that the two of them decided to get married, that they did not jump into something for the sake of consoling an itch.
I enjoyed that the couple are painted as adults taking a part in a mature relationship but they are far from perfect and their situations, from the stresses of the renovation involving the dilapidated house they purchased to the increasing annoyance and ennui they start to feel toward one another, are not always ideal. Even though it appears as though they have more money and means than most couples, the screenplay allows us to identify with them through problems that a lot of partners, married or otherwise, have gone or might go through.
Streep and Nicholson are joyous to watch because there are times when their dialogue does not come across as scripted. For instance, when the two of them eat pizza and burst in song, I felt very awkward, at least initially, then gradually got into it and found the whole thing charming and delightful. Eventually, however, the film focuses on the heartbreak Rachel experiences when it finally clicks that her husband is having an affair and he is making a fool out of her.
I found the writing one-sided—which is frustrating. Since all the scenes of the affair happens off-screen, the blow of the infidelity, at least from our perspective, is softened. While we might feel bad for Rachel, we do not feel betrayed by him. Our lack of connection to the husband is strengthened further by the screenplay not allowing us to see or experience what he feels after his wife confronted him. There is almost a sense of unfairness because we watch them get into a relationship as two people coming together but the fallout is dealt with by taking sides.
Lastly, the friendship between Rachel and Richard (Jeff Daniels) is worth delving into but the picture does not make time to establish what makes their friendship work. And so when Rachel turns to Richard for consolation during her darkest trials, we are not moved or touched by what they share.
Nevertheless, I am giving “Heartburn,” directed by Mike Nichols, a marginal recommendation because there are moments in it that do ring true. The performances are strong but is incongruent with a screenplay that lacks consistent wit and focus.