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  Goodbye Girl, The The Odder Couple
Year: 1977
Director: Herbert Ross
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings, Paul Benedict, Barbara Rhoades, Theresa Merritt, Michael Shawn, Patricia Pearcy, Gene Castle, Marilyn Sokol, Anita Dangler, Robert Costanzo, Raymond J. Barry, Powers Boothe, Nicol Williamson
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: It was all going so well. Paula McFadden (Marsha Mason) was all set to move to California from her New York City apartment with her ten-year-old daughter Lucy (Quinn Cummings), as invited by her live-in boyfriend who was an actor, but once they returned home from shopping today they had a nasty surprise waiting for them. The boyfriend was nowhere to be seen, but a note he had left was there, and it told them both he was off to Italy for six months to make a movie - and his wife was going with him. Not only that, but now Paula discovers as he had the lease on the apartment, she is now being thrown out...

Not everyone likes Neil Simon's way with words, but in 1977 few would disagree that this adaptation of his own stage play saw him at his best, and even more than The Odd Couple was the best translation of his work from stage to screen. Two people who might not be so pleased with it were director Mike Nichols and star Robert De Niro, who had been hired to bring this to life, something that may not seem too incredible in the case of Nichols, but to envisage De Niro, fresh off his success in Taxi Driver, in the role subsequently filled by Richard Dreyfuss is a big stretch. According to Simon, he was let go because he didn't do "joy" very well, and you can see where that may well have been the case.

Still, De Niro went onwards and upwards, and Dreyfuss... had a very good decade in the seventies, but after that was strictly character actor material; his problems with drug abuse were well-publicised, but watching him here in the part which won him his Oscar (the youngest ever winner at the time) you could appreciate a performance that was as good as he would ever give, and so engaging in the process that you'd be charmed by him for the duration. Not everyone would think he was the correct winner on the big Academy Award night, but watch The Goodbye Girl now and you'll see he shone as brightly as any of the stars who had been garlanded with the gong before, and indeed after.

The key to the film's ability to win you over was that you noticed neither of the potential romantic couple are exactly without flaws. Paula has been damaged so often by her poor choices of men that she's a class A neurotic even if she is holding it all together for the sake of her daughter, and the fear that time is running out for her is only exacerbated when she has to go back to work as a dancer on the stage only to find she's too old for the jobs she's going after. Meanwhile ego-driven Elliot Garfield (Dreyfuss) has been invited to New York to star in an Off-Broadway Richard III, but in hilarious scenes his director (Paul Benedict) has insane ideas of how it should be played: screamingly camp, basically, which lands Elliot in a career crisis. Not helping are his living arrangements.

How this is established is when Elliot appears at Paula's apartment one rain-soaked night, having leased the place from her now-absent boyfriend, which leads to a long argument about who has the right to stay there. A compromise is reached when they agree to be roommates, though that brings up all sorts of complications in itself, and if you can see where this is going because it's that kind of movie, Simon's sympathy for his characters for all their faults was the solid bedrock for some highly amusing setpieces and frequently laugh out loud dialogue, but it was the interplay between Elliot, Paula and Lucy (Cummings was quite a discovery, though lasting fame eluded her, something she wasn't terribly upset about apparently) which generated the personality and believable relationships to invest in their happiness. Interestingly, this went past the happy ending to another more uncertain one, but was another example of director Herbert Ross doing well with a famed American humourist's play after Woody Allen's Play It Again, Sam. Music by Dave Grusin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Review Comments (2)
Posted by:
Andrew Pragasam
Date:
10 Oct 2012
  Completely wonderful and - for what it's worth - probably my favourite Neil Simon adaptation. Did not know about the Nichols/De Niro connection, but I heard the story was loosely inspired by some of Dustin Hoffman's real-life experiences.
       
Posted by:
Graeme Clark
Date:
10 Oct 2012
  And the terrible experimental Shakespeare was based on a Michael Moriarty version! You can sort of believe that, but wasn't Hoffman living with Gene Hackman in their struggling artist phase?
       


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