I would like to consider ‘Heartburn’ a rare case; it could easily be described as one of Murphy’s Laws. This is the kind of film that should be quite good, that should be a successful movie, definitely a funny one, but isn’t. ‘Heartburn’ is a novel written by the famous screenwriter Nora Ephron, well known for ‘You‘ve Got Mail’, ‘When Harry met Sally’ and ‘Sleepless in Seattle’, a master, some might say, of the comedy/romance genre.
Back in 1983, Nora Ephron wrote this autobiographical novel based on her second failed marriage to Carl Bernstein. The whole book focuses on their relationship, their marriage and their break-up. It’s a confessional type of narration, written with humour and a distinct sarcasm, full of many harsh and revealing truths. There is no married woman alive who won’t identify with the problems that the writer had to deal with in order to make her marriage work. Nora Ephron writes down all the things that you’re scared to admit. She’s a woman in her thirties, married for a second time and determined to make this one work. She gets pregnant immediately, moments before the problems start to kick in. During her second pregnancy: infidelity, loneliness, tiredness and gossip make her realize that breaking up is the only way out. Even though Heartburn was written almost thirty years ago, when I read it, it felt relatable, honest and modern.
Three years later, Paramount Pictures decided to adapt it into a film. During filming, some of the very best were called in to participate. Heartburn was directed by Mike Nichols (known for ‘The Graduate’), Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson were chosen for the leading roles and Nora Ephron was in charge of turning her book into a screenplay. It sounded like a formula for success. However, convincing viewers of her role as a woman losing control proved difficult for Meryl Streep, while Jack Nicholson appeared disappointingly formulaic – a shadow of the character he has come to be known as.
Overall, this is an adaptation that should have gone well, but didn’t. It was definitely an idea that looked good on paper but not on screen. Though watching Kevin Spacey in one of his first appearances was interesting enough to realize that even though it was shot in the ‘80s, it should still be considered vintage.