FILMS… Heartburn (1986)



I’ve got a bad feeling in my tummy about this marriage…


Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep take the leads in this semi true story of a relationship from start to finish.


Heartburn Trailer, Kurt


Are you looking for a heartwarming and feel-good movie romance, that makes you want to fall in love all over again? Stop reading now as this is not that movie, although it does have its moments. Heartburn (1986) was firstly a novel and then this book was adapted and filmed long before Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver gave us their Marriage Story.

Like War of the Roses (1989), Heartburn gave us the low down on the dissolution of a relationship. This is a film with two one time Best Actor and Actress nominated Oscar talents acting as the couple in question. Heartburn‘s leads were played out by two Hollywood heavies, Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson respectively.

The novel and then script for Heartburn was partly based on one of Nora Ephron’s marriages. In the script, she blended fact and fiction on her relationship with Carl Bernstein, a top journalist who had a role in reporting the Watergate scandal. Nora Ephron was also the name behind other romcoms such as When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and You’ve Got Mail (1998).

The film begins with an instrumental track, this is of Carly Simon’s ballad Coming Round Again. The story starts at a church and a wedding, where food writer and journalist Rachel Samstat (Streep) meets the notorious lothario Mark Forman (Nicholson).

She eyes him up throughout the service with and without her makeup mirror and (gawks at him) with her (not so subtle) pals. Mark makes his move on Rachel at the reception as he whisks her off for a drink leaving her loved up, boss and buddy, Richard (Jeff Daniels) friendzoned.

Rachel and Mark talk about their failed marriages, snog and then end up in bed together watching The Brain that Wouldn’t Die eating spaghetti carbonara. They then both declare they’ll never marry again, but then 5 minutes later – in film time – on their wedding day, Rachel still has her doubts.

She is cajoled by everyone including his best friends, the married Julie (Stockard Channing) and Arthur Siegel (Richard Masur) and anyone including both his and her relatives to marry him. After one last ditch attempt, Rachel’s then groom Mark talks her into it.

After they get married, she moves to Washington from Manhattan giving up her work. The newlyweds buy their dream house which needs totally renovated.  Their contractor is unreliable and Mark goes on a full scale rant as it’s seen their kitchen which can only be accessed from the outside of the house. Rachel complains that she failed to get on with his political minded buddies at a dinner party.

Rachel announces she’s pregnant, and the married pair serenade her pregnancy bump with songs about babies. At Annie’s birth, Rachel has a caesarean as Annie’s life is in danger. Then as the marriage continues,  Rachel falls pregnant again and then there’s another Nicholson fuelled rant about missing socks.

Their friend and gossip queen, Betty (Catherine O’Hara) hints at some big news about the supertall, socialite Thelma Rice who is having an affair.. with then speculation of who the guilty party is, but his identity not revealed.

Then during a visit to the hairdresser, Rachel’s hairdresser and her pal discuss how they found out about an unfaithful bloke, as they cut her hair. Rachel stomps home angrily from the hairdresser. After gutting drawers, she finds the damning hotel and flower receipts, and it’s revealed that it was Mark who is having an affair with Thelma.

On his return home, she accuses him of the affair and before he can even confess or deny anything, the heavily pregnant Rachel packs her bags and leaves him, taking baby Annie with her. Rachel stays with her father, gets her old job back, hires a babysitter and goes to a therapy support group.

She friendzones Richard again as inside she’s hoping for a reconciliation with Mark. She comfort eats and watches TV with her imagining a presenter who appears to comment on her life and current situation.

A thief (Kevin Spacey) follows Rachel off the subway to her support group run by Vera (Maureen Stapleton). The thief robs them all at gunpoint and he takes Rachel’s wedding ring. Then as she returns from the police station, to find Mark waiting for her. He says he wants her back, loves her and promises that he will not see Thelma again…

This film plot which sounds more like TV Movie fodder is elevated by the performances from the superb cast and the surprise of an ending. Streep and Nicholson make a credible couple in both the happier and unhappier moments of this marriage and relationship.

The plot however is told primarily from Ephron’s viewpoint, and I can’t recall any scenes without Streep. This makes it very much Meryl Streep’s movie with the story revealed as she experiences and learns about events.

However, this works to her character’s advantage as Rachel is given a full character arc and we get to learn about her as a person more fully. As a result, however, this film feels biased towards this wronged woman and the plot delivery feels very one-sided.

It would have been beneficial to see scenes without Streep, to show others – particularly Mark – in plot relevant situations and to explore their feelings. However, despite this imbalance both Streep and Nicholson give strong, credible performances.

Nicholson as Mark had very little to do and say, and his character was not explored or developed. It was, therefore, a surprise, when it was revealed it was he who had an affair. Although Mark was painted as a womaniser in the first of his scenes, there was no plot evidence to support this.

This leads to the question of what events had made him stray and when? We had only met his “other woman” Thelma once or twice in all too brief appearances and she did not even share scenes with Mark alone.

Mark’s screen time in the movie was limited. Before the couple’s split, he had two random rants and a few more charming scenes. These rants reminded you more of a character Nicholson had played earlier in his career as The Shinings Jack Torrance.

Sadly it wasn’t (in an in-film nod to this horror) about Rachel interrupting him at work (Mark’s work was surprisingly never mentioned or reflected on) but on his lack of sock pairs and a non-existent kitchen door. After the split, the story focussed on Rachel with Mark only appearing to ask her to come back.

Other scenes had Mark seen as a more charming, loving and fun character. This is seen in a fun montage where he and Streep sing a medley of baby-related songs. Nicholson was a joy and stole the scene in an exuberant solo number. Yet, a few scenes without her could have been valuable to explain more about his character and his motivations.

Streep had a delightful maternal rapport with young Natalie Stern who was billed as baby Annie. This child actress likewise had a strong rapport with Streep, and I read later this baby’s billed name was changed by their mother to protect them from publicity. The baby’s mother was later revealed as Streep, and the baby, her daughter, Mamie Gummer. The scenes of mother and daughter are wonderful to watch.

This film was criticised by many well known critics such as Roger Ebert, who called it HERE

“a bitter, sour movie about two people who are only marginally interesting”

and Leonard Maltin in his 2013 Movie Guide described it as a

“Lightweight, superficial story is supercharged by two charismatic stars, who make it a must see”

The film does have a wonderful haunting ballad on its soundtrack. This was Coming Round Again and this was both sung and written by Carly Simon. This appeared as an instrumental track, at times throughout the movie, and included with its lyrics at the end of the film. Perhaps the most accurate review of the film is seen in these lyrics, which pretty much sum up this movie…

Baby (Gummer) sneezes
Mummy (Streep) pleases
Daddy (Nicholson) breezes in

So good on paper (The casting?)
So romantic (The Nicholson and Streep baby song medley)
But so bewildering… ( Why didn’t we see things from Mark’s point of view occasionally?  Why did he have an affair…??? Why oh why oh WHY???????)

As for Streep and Nicholson, they reunited once more in the movie Ironweed (1987), a film which won them mixed reviews, along with a Best Actress and Best Actor Academy Award nomination.. as they appeared again as another doomed couple who end on a tragic note.


Weeper Rating 😦 😦 /10

Handsqueeze Rating 🙂/10

Hulk Rating: ‎  ‎ ‎mrgreen ‎ ‎mrgreen ‎mrgreen  ‎mrgreen ‎ ‎mrgreen ‎mrgreen   ‎mrgreen ‎mrgreen/10


The Home Sweet Home Blogathon 2021

This post was added to the Home Sweet Home Blogathon run by myself and Taking Up Room. Other movies with this cast reviewed here include Meryl Streep in Kramer vs Kramer, Mamma Mia and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again.  Jack Nicholson in Goin South, The Postman Always Rings Twice, One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest, Mars Attacks, The Witches of Eastwick, Heartburn, The Shining, Oscar Winner Best Actors in Superhero films, Terms of Endearment and the Jack Nicholson Blogathon. Maureen Stapleton stars in Airport and Stockard Channing in Grease. Jeff Daniels appears in Terms of Endearment and The Martian.


28 thoughts on “FILMS… Heartburn (1986)

  1. Hi Gill, so interesting that you mention Marriage Story and War of the Roses in your wonderfully written article. All movies, including this one, that I do not like at all! Maybe because my parents had such an awful marriage, this subject matter depresses me! The one exception in the bad marriage genre is Virginia Woolf, which is so brilliantly and eviscerating and a tour de force for its actors. Streep and Nicholson are wonderful here though, I must admit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Chris. I agree it’s a difficult subject to watch as a couple’s marriage is in difficulties, but these two seemed less convincing as a divorcing pair than those other films. It’s a shame especially as the talents of Streep and Nicholson could have easily handled it.


  2. We saw this back in the early days of our marriage and were properly depressed! Too late to back out now became our motto. Hardy-har-har.
    The bias in the telling of the dissolution of the marriage does tend to mar the movie. It takes two people to make something work and the same two people to break a relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An entertaining and informative review of a film I’ve never heard of, Gil!

    Between Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Daniels, stockard Channing, and spaghetti carbonara, I don’t know how I missed this movie! I will have to keep an eye out for it. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The presence of Jack Nicholson and Stockard Channing might be enough to overcome my eye-ball splitting hatred of Meryl Streep…but that’s a topic for another time. In the meantime, I will have to give this film a watch.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting review… “The plot however is told primarily from Ephron’s viewpoint.” This is the thing with movies about marriages: you never get both sides of the issue. I thought both Marriage Story and Kramer vs Kramer were biased against the wife. Anyhow, I didn’t think much of Heartburn. It’s glossy and well-acted but something is missing. I can’t explain it (maybe I need to re-watch it). I much prefer Diary of a Mad Housewife, An Unmarried Woman and Shoot the Moon. BTW, I loved Ironweed!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting review, Gill! What I like about War of the Roses is the dark comedic tone it took with the subject matter. This, on the other hand, doesn’t sound like much fun. The one-sided storytelling is very unappealing. Sure the story came from a single perspective but that’s no excuse in a work of fiction not to offer some insight on the other side.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I was glad to read your thoughts on Heartburn. I’ve heard mixed reviews, but I’d never actually seen the trailer before reading your review today. Jack Nicholson’s character looks interesting, and for that reason, I’m going to look for this film.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I watched this film many years ago and I remember thinking it was rather realistic – like, something that you’d never see in a film from the 1950s, for instance. It didn’t bother me that we only got to see Rachel’s point of view – there were already too many movies with male point of views only.
    Thanks for co-hosting this great blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

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