Mikey and Nicky (1976)

Dir. Elaine May
Starring: John Cassavetes, Peter Falk, Ned Beatty, etc.
85/100 (initial score: 80/100)

I’d recommend this to Kevin, Chris and Mitchell–although it’s not something I’d urge them to see. I just think they would enjoy it, at least mildy. I think Penny would probably like this, too, but I’m not sure about Grace. Don might like some moments, but I’m not sure how he would feel about the film overall. I guess no for Joel and Jill.

Nicky (Cassavetes) is panicking while holed up in a hotel room. He thinks someone has ordered a hit on him, so he calls up his friend, Mikey (Falk) for help. Mikey things Nicky is a paranoid mess, and despite trying to reassure his friend that no one’s after him, Nicky won’t have any of it. So, to humor him, Mikey says they have to hurry and leave. Thus, begins their journey on the lam.

There are two things that stand out for me. First, May is excellent and mixing both serious dramatic moments with comedic ones. May worked with Mike Leigh doing sketch comedy bits, and you can see that on the screen. However, the scenes all feel more like straight drama, with these small comedic moments.

Some of the comedic moments remind me of Charles Grodin and Robert De Niro in Midnight Run, specifically the way Grodin would exasperate and disarm De Niro. In this film, Cassavetes is in the Grodin role, except he’s a bit more wild and out-of-control at times. Additionally, this film is darker and more serious than Midnight Run.

The scenes between Falk and Cassavetes are a pleasure to watch, and it’s the second aspect of the film that I really liked. Cassavetes is known for his directing, but based on the films I’ve seen of him, he’s also an excellent actor. If you like good acting, I think the film is worth watching. The film moves from one situation to another, but there’s also a decent plot that keeps moving the film forward. However, overall, one should keep in mind the film is closer to a character-driven independent film, more than a mainstream Hollywood film.

May also directed the original version of The Heartbreak Kid, which also has a good mix of serious drama and comedy. If that appeals to you, I’d recommend that film as well. (Charles Grodin plays the lead and Eddie Albert is very good in that.)

7 Responses to “Mikey and Nicky (1976)”

  1. Reid

    I wanted to describe my impressions and perception of the film as the film progressed. (spoilers)

    Before watching the film, I glanced at a synopsis, which mentioned a paranoid guy who thinks someone is trying to kill him and a good friend who has to watch over him. Because of that, I thought it was going to be about this (decent) guy who has to take care of his mentally unstable friend. The idea that they were both seriously involved with organized crime didn’t enter my mind at all. So when I see Nicky acting crazy in his hotel room, that reinforced this impression.

    Now, when they get to the bar, and we see Mikey talking to the hit man, I started thinking this was going to be about a good friend who has to come to grips with betraying his friend. My impression of the characters was that Mikey is this decent, loyal friend, who for some reason (maybe he’s forced to do this), has to betray his friend. Nicky seemed like this manic, lower-level patsy (almost like a Ratzo Rizzo type of character).

    Now, after the bar scene, there’s a point where I actually thought Mikey would give up his scheme and run away with Nicky. This happens after the graveyard scene, when they get back on the bus. They’re playing a childhood game with their hands, and I think Mikey mentions that he migth run away with Nicky (only, he’s worried about his wife). At the time, I thought he could have been serious, and I think they go to Nicky’s “girlfriend’s” apartment after this.

    I mentioned that I thought Nicky is sort of like a Ratzo Rizzo character, but that impression dramatically changes after the apartment scene. Now Mikey is the one that seems more like Ratzo Rizzo-ish character and while Nicky is not the decent, loyal friend, he’s the one that people like, the one women are attracted to. So Nicky is the well-liked person, while Mikey is a kind of outcast, and we begin to see that Nicky has been cruel to Mikey—and Nicky smashing Mikey’s father’s watch confirms this. (It’s just dawning on me that May uses the watch in interesting ways.) When Mikey storms off, and meets up with the hitman, there’s a sense that smashing the watch was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But we don’t really know the true nature of their relationship. (During the argument, Mikey mentions that Nicky teases him behind his back [calling him the “Echo” because he says things twice] and that Nicky doesn’t call Mikey anymore.)

    When Mikey has the conversation with his wife, the true nature of their relationship emerges. The feelings of being slighted aren’t just recent, but go back to their childhood—it goes back to his father’s love. Mikey portrays his wife and marriage in positive terms prior to the end of the film, but we see this is not really true. Even the circumstances with the father’s watch has probably been a lie. Mikey’s been the black sheep, an outcast, the guy nobody loves, his whole life, and he’s betraying Nicky because of the hatred that has accumulated over time. That’s the revelation of the conversation with his wife—that’s the film’s denouement and climax, at least for me. The dramatic door banging and gun shots felt a bit anti-climatic. But again, I don’t know a better ending.

  2. Arlyn

    I didn’t read this in depth since I may see it. I like Cassavetes and I dont tend to rate his films that high. 85 is really high. I’ll keep an eye out for this.

  3. Arlyn

    Oops. Just remembered this was an Elaine May film. I’m not familiar with her but will still keep this in mind.

  4. Reid

    Yeah, I would recommend not reading too much of my review. Knowing more about the film would have diminished my experience of the film–and probably would have lowered the score.

    If you don’t care for Cassavetes as a director, I’m not sure you will enjoy this–although, to me, Elaine May brings her own sensibility that distinguishes this film from his. Whether the differences are significant enough for you, I can’t really say.

    If you like Mike Leigh’s films, though, I would say this film is worth looking for.

  5. Reid

    I would also recommend May’s A Heartbreak Kid. Her films are funny, but edgy and dark at the same time, and I can’t think of many other filmmakers who can do both so well and in the same film.

  6. Arlyn

    Cassavetes reminds me of movies like Gloria and The Tempest that were playing on HBO in the late 1970s to early 1980s. The Heartbreak Kid sounds really familiar.

    I’m reminded of another movie that was also on HBO around the late 1970’s, a Stanley Donen film called, Movie, Movie. It starred George C. Scott as a Broadway producer and was sort of like a throwback to old Hollywood, similar to The Artist but better. The movie got its title from having two different movies in one, the first one in black and white and the other in color, with the same actors in each story. I remember it being really good. Did you guys ever see this? I haven’t checked all my sources but I’d like to see if I can get a hold of a copy.

  7. Reid

    I haven’t seen that version of The Tempest, but I’ve seen Gloria, and I didn’t really care for it. It’s not one of the better Cassavetes films, in my opinion.

    As for The Hearbreak Kid, there was a recent remake with Ben Stiller (I think), so maybe that’s why it sounds familiar. Charles Grodin was the lead in the original.

    I haven’t seen Movie, Movie.

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