Tuesday, April 10, 2012
GOODBYE GIRL, THE
(November 1977, U.S.)
Moving from the genre of the western to the genre of the romantic comedy is a rather interesting transition because my feelings for romantic comedies are not far off from that of the western in that I consider the storylines quite redundant. Really, think about most of the romantic comedies you may have seen in the past ten years or so. Young quirky guy, young quirky girl, quirky guy's best friend is very often a comic relief goofball, quirky girl's best friend is either the same female version of the comic relief goofball or a flaming homosexual. Too often these best friend sidekicks are enough to deter your attention away from the two people at the heart of the film who are destined to come together against all odds and circumstances (no matter how silly those circumstances may be).
Which brings us now to Neil Simon's THE GOODBYE GIRL, the film I would consider to be my favorite romantic comedy of all time for two very good reasons...RICHARD DREYFUSS...very funny man! Not to say that this film doesn't suffer from one or two of the cliche elements I've cited above. The characters of Elliot Garfield (Dreyfuss) and Paula McFadden (played by Marsha Mason) are definitely the quirky types, as well as Paula's daughter Lucy (played by Quinn Cummings) and Elliot's off-off-off Broadway director Mark (played by Paul Benedict of THE JEFFERSONS). Yes, it's safe to say most of the cast here is surely on the quirky side. What's important to realize here is that none of the supporting characters are meant to draw your attention away from the bickering couple on screen whom we want to see end up together despite their contempt for each other at the film's beginning. The contempt is hilarious as they are accidentally thrown together in the same New York City apartment because Paula's "love-'em-and-leave-'em'" ex-boyfriend has just left her and has also subletted the apartment to Elliot without her knowledge. From the moment Elliot moves in, we know we're in for a good time because it's Dreyfuss' never-ending, quick, snappy, spontaneous dialogue that keeps us listening the entire time. Hell, just watching him play Richard III as a flaming crippled fag (sorry...homosexual!) is worth your the two hours of your life. It's the funniest staged sequence in a film I've seen since Mel Brooks' "Springtime for Hitler" in THE PRODUCERS (1968). What's also refreshing to note here is that (despite the fact that I'm now older than both their characters were in 1977) this film is about grown-ups with grown-up issues and not a couple of young adult morons who act like they just got paroled from the Disney Channel. You see...even at the age of ten when I first saw THE GOODBYE GIRL, I enjoyed films about grown-ups and not kids.
As a modern female character (of the 1970s, anyway), Paula McFadden is an intruiging one. She's an experienced Broadway dancer and has clearly done a reasonable job of raising her ten year-old daughter (mostly) by herself. She is, however, a woman who clearly needs to be rescued and taken care of. Notice how she only tries to get her professional life back in gear after she's been badly dumped. Notice how quickly she gives up trying as soon as it appears that she'll have Elliot to take care of her (Gloria Steinem might not have approved!). In the end, though, all that Paula really wants is the promise and the reassurance of love and security (as perhaps we all do). Reassurance is a key word here because notice at the end how joyful she becomes when she realizes that all she really required was to be ASKED by her new love to come away with him to his first movie shoot. As humans, I suppose we require the knowlege that not only is love here to stay, but that it will return to us even if it goes away for a few weeks.
Recalling THE GOODBYE GIRL takes me back to a time in the decade of the 1970s when there were many film being shot on location in New York City. From DEATH WISH (1974) to KING KONG (1976) to SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) to SUPERMAN (1978), it was a time when the great island of Manhattan and it's surrounding buroughs were featured on screen in all their glory, good or bad. And despite the fact that New York City was a crime-ridden filth pit at the time, it still seemed like a truly glorious place even to me as a kid. I was a kid. What did I know?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Elliot Garfield (drunkenly reading out loud a review of his performance as Richard III): "The 'Times' writes: Elliot Garfield researched Richard the Third, and discovered him...to be England's first badly dressed INTERIOR DECORATOR!"