Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl (1977)

The Goodbye Girl (1977)


Ex-dancer Paula McFadden (Marsha Mason, Max Dugan Returns) lives with her young daughter (Quinn Cummings, The Babysitter) and boyfriend in a Manhattan apartment. Unexpectedly, the boyfriend takes off and Paula finds out that he has sublet the apartment to Chicago actor Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws). After some tough negotiations, Paula and Elliot decide to share the flat. The battle of sexes erupts almost immediately.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Familiar, but perfectly casted, and sharply written comedy that made zillions at the box-office. Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl, directed by Herbert Ross (The Turning Point), is not high art, but it is very entertaining. There is nothing new here. Simon himself said that this is The Odd Couple (1968) with one gender switch. But it is a funny, even heartfelt, romantic comedy without the cynical attitude of today’s movie romances.

The Goodbye Girl was allegedly based on Dustin Hoffman’s early life as a struggling actor in New York. At some point the producers toyed with the idea of casting Hoffman, but Simon settled on Dreyfuss. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Dreyfuss won the Oscar and kudos to the Academy for rewarding perfect comedic timing.

That said, I think Dreyfuss was better as a man obsessed with UFOs in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, also released in 1977, but I’m sure that the award meant to reward both performances. Personally, I would have given him an Oscar just for the way he says, “I-don’t-like-the-panties-hanging-on-the-rod.” Much has been said about Dreyfuss’s stereotypical representation of a homosexual, but the scenes are meant to illustrate the stupidity of such stereotypes.

Marsha Mason is Dreyfuss’s equal. Mason’s (Mrs. Neil Simon) main challenge was to make her obnoxious character likable and she succeeds. She also has great chemistry with Cummings and Dreyfuss. Cummings makes her film debut and she delivers some of the funniest lines. She went on to greater notoriety; she co-starred in the 80s TV series Family (one of my favorite childhood shows).

The cast also includes Paul Benedict (Bently, TV’s The Jefferson) as a misguided theater director. A famous Scottish actor has an uncredited cameo near the end of the film, but I’m not going to spoil the surprise. The film was shot by David M. Walsh (Murder by Death and California Suite), Simon’s preferred cameraman.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

The Goodbye Girl is a must-see for “rocom” fans. Music by Dave Grusin. Remade as a TV movie with Jeff Daniels and Patricia Heaton. The movie was later turned into a Broadway musical. Color, 111 minutes, Rated PG.


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