HE’S MOVING IN… SHE’S MOVING OUT… IT’S LOVE AT FIRST FIGHT!
On a recent episode of Billions, two of the characters were talking about qualifying for the Traveling Wilburys, the band consisting only of legends like Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. They agreed that in the world of acting, Jack Nicholson would be such a candidate. Richard Dreyfuss? Great actor, Damian Lewis exclaims… but not a Wilbury.
He has a point. But in the late 1970s, it did look for a while like Dreyfuss was perhaps destined to become a legend. The same year he starred in Close Encounters, he was also in this romantic comedy that earned him an Oscar.
Dancer Paula McFadden (Marsha Mason) is dating a married man and lives in a Manhattan apartment together with her ten-year-old daughter Lucy (Quinn Cummings). One day she learns that not only has this guy left the country and her to make a movie in Italy, but he has also subleased the apartment to another actor, Elliot Garfield (Dreyfuss), who’s new in town. This comes as a shock also to Elliot. Reluctantly, Paula makes a deal with him that makes it possible for her and Lucy to share the apartment with him… but it’s a tense situation, because they’re different and don’t really like each other. At the same time, Paula is trying to make a comeback as a dancer and Elliott is struggling with a production of ”Richard III” where the director wants him to play the king as a gay stereotype…
First called “Bogart Slept Here”
Some might identify this as a romantic version of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (1968), since two people are forced to share a life and find each other’s habits infuriating. It’s a thankful theme that Simon has explored earlier; in Barefoot in the Park (1967) it was a couple of newlyweds who had to get used to each other. The first incarnation of Simon’s story was called ”Bogart Slept Here”, with Robert De Niro as the actor and Mike Nichols directing. What they all learned from that experience was that De Niro was not quite right for such an energetic extrovert of a character, and he was replaced by Dreyfuss; even after that decision, Simon rewrote the script to make it fit the star even better. This is definitely one of the playwright’s best movies of the decade, because it has tons of charm to go along with the funny dialogue.
Dreyfuss is irresistibly warm and hilarious and the film creates a lovely portrait of him as most likely the best dad precocious young Lucy could find. Mason plays a more challenging character; her ”aging” dancer is often hard to sympathize with, as she keeps berating Elliot even though he’s not to blame for the current situation. But in the end, Mason makes us understand that this woman is simply scared, afraid of not being able to provide for her daughter, scared to let down her guard for another man who might betray her. Cummings is also terrific as Lucy; when it comes to her lines, Simon maintains a fine balance so as not to make her look like a child who would only exist in a screenplay.
The exteriors were shot in New York City and the interiors in L.A.; in spite of both the director’s and the screenwriter’s experience from the stage they avoid making this look like a stale filmed play. The movie also has a nice title song by David Gates, which turns into an endearing way to finish things off after Elliot and Paula’s last clash.
The Goodbye Girl 1977-U.S. 110 min. Color. Produced by Ray Stark. Directed by Herbert Ross. Screenplay: Neil Simon. Song: ”Goodbye Girl” (David Gates). Cast: Richard Dreyfuss (Elliot Garfield), Marsha Mason (Paula McFadden), Quinn Cummings (Lucy McFadden), Paul Benedict, Barbara Rhoades.
Trivia: Remade as a 2004 TV movie. Later a Broadway musical.
Oscar: Best Actor (Dreyfuss). Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actor (Dreyfuss), Actress (Mason), Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Actor (Dreyfuss).
Quote: “I play the guitar whenever I cannot sleep, and I meditate every morning, complete with chanting and burning incense, so if you have to walk around I’d appreciate a little tiptoeing. Also: I sleep in the nude. ‘Au buffo.’ Winter and summer, rain or snow, with the windows open. And because I may have to go to the potty or to the fridge in the middle of the night, and because I do not want to put on jammies which I do not own in the first place, unless you’re looking for a quick thrill or your daughter an advanced education I’d keep my door closed.” (Dreyfuss to Mason)
Last word: “When I look at a film, I don’t see just the performance. I remember the days I shot the film. I still can look at moments on the big screen and not like what I see because I was in a real bad mood that day. I can see the day. Well, I loved every day of ‘Goodbye Girl’. I loved who I worked with. I loved Herb Ross, I loved Marsha Mason, loved Neil Simon. To me, good work on any level is based on relaxation. I got to a level of relaxation I’d never been to on that film. And that’s what I see in Elliot Garfield, too. Also, he’s the nicest person in the world. I have never had any pretensions to be Steve McQueen or Mr. Virility or Mr. Grotesque or Mr. Anything. Elliot Garfield is totally human and he’s kind and good and intelligent and witty and sweet and lovable. Who wouldn’t want to play that?” (Dreyfuss, Rolling Stone)