Sandra Dunmore (Patricia Arquette) is in real estate, showing people around her clients' houses with a view to getting them sold, but she is not averse to using those homes herself when she can take her boyfriend, political campaign manager Ben Dunmore (Don Johnson) around there and they can thoroughly enjoy each other's company. Only her husband, Ben's brother Jake (Dermot Mulroney) remains none the wiser, despite working in the same office as Ben and behaving increasingly erratically. However, Sandra has plans to make the best of this situation: she believes she can make herself a fortune and be set for life, and if those plans involve a little bloodshed, then that's the way it has to be...
A strange throwback to the film noirs of old, Goodbye Lover came along near the tail end of the nineteen-nineties revival of such things ushered in by the popularity of Basic Instinct, leading every studio to seek out their own sexually charged, violently tinged, thriller complete with femmes fatale and men who were their dupes, all dancing around one another in a manner that suggested relationships had not altered between men and women since the forties and the heyday of such material. This time it was Arquette's opportunity to essay that man-eating role, but there was not much straightforward about the events here, for after about half an hour you noticed something about the tone.
Goodbye Lover was not some high-octane suspense piece laden with tension, it was actually a comedy, a near-spoof of those familiar tropes that Sharon Stone had played to the hilt six years earlier, yet it was not quite that either, as in the main it could best be described as off-kilter, wrong-footing the audience who believed they were in for a sex thriller and winding up with a massive Mickey take instead. The first inkling you had of this intention was when we were shown Sandra reciting a self-help cassette in her car, making it clear that she was off her rocker but driven to succeed, a combination that meant woe betide anyone foolish enough to get in her way, but then again, she was also obsessed with The Sound of Music.
This led to scenes where she sang along with Julie Andrews' vocals from that movie in private, to give herself an ego boost, yet also bizarrely when she was forcing victims off the road she would belt out "So Long, Farewell" which if you had not twigged this was intended to be funny would have you baffled, and many were, not "getting" the production's sense of humour. Naturally, for those who appreciated the sight of a pixilated bad girl this was going to go down a lot better, and Arquette, not always the most conventional of performers in her choice of roles, was evidently enjoying herself playing the role of a borderline maniac making everyone else dance to her tune. Well, almost everyone else, as there was one character who was on to her, and she happened to be an officer of the law.
Ellen DeGeneres was that detective, Sergeant Pompano, another woman who did not fit conventions though that exhibited itself in a caustic line in dry wit as she sent up everyone around her, especially her partner (Ray McKinnon), a pure in heart religious fellow who is precisely the type who gets intellectually bulldozed by the likes of Pompano, and indeed Sandra. Mary-Louise Parker showed up as the secretary who may throw a spanner in the works for she has a plan of her own, and uncredited, for some reason, Vincent Gallo was a serial killer who is dragged into Sandra's schemes: it was a mark of the oddity of Goodbye Lover that it felt the need to include a mass murderer as an incidental character who becomes more important come the finale. Cheerily immoral, you might be surprised into laughing as there were points where this became irresistibly absurd, though as a thriller it was lacking since it was never committed to anything other than sending up the genre. Different, at least, though quite why there was such emphasis on feet and mirrors was for director Roland Joffé to explain. Music by John Ottman.