Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Goodbye Girl

The Goodbye Girl: written by Neil Simon; directed by Herbert Ross; starring Richard Dreyfuss (Elliot Garfield), Marsha Mason (Paula McFadden) and Quinn Cummings (Lucy McFadden) (1977): Richard Dreyfuss won the Best Actor Oscar for 1977 for this film, becoming the youngest Best Oscar winner until Adrien Brody more than 20 years later. It's a manic performance in a solid romantic comedy, with the usual mix of rapid-fire patter and sentimentality that distinguishes most Neil Simon material, especially from his heyday of the 1960's and 1970's.

A series of mishaps puts single mother Marsha Mason, daughter Quinn Cummings, and Dreyfuss in the same apartment in New York for four months while she searches for a job and he prepares to play Richard III in an off-Broadway production of Shakespeare's play. Various meet-cute things happen. Mason's character tries to come to grips with her tendency to be attracted to men who always leave her; Dreyfus's character tries to come to grips with the horrible botch that this version of Richard III is turning out to be.

The film holds up for the most part, though much of the comedy of this version of Richard III hasn't aged all that well, given that much of it is based on the director's misguided efforts to make Richard III gay. And by gay, we mean stereotyped-gay. And it's a bit hard to navigate exactly where the comedy is supposed to be situated in those scenes dealing with this interpretation: with the ineptitude of the director or with the simple idea that Richard is being played as a stereotypical gay man? Is gayness in and of itself supposed to be the punchline here?

Mason's ten-year-old daughter is played as one of those wise-beyond-her-years children who luckily gets some good lines and isn't overwhelmingly annoying or surpassingly omniscient. Dreyfuss's character is an interesting assortment of twitches and bluster. I can't imagine him winning a Best Actor Oscar for this role now because, of course, the character is neither a historical figure nor someone suffering from a mental or physical illness. Have the Oscars gotten worse since 1977? Recommended.

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