Title: The Goodbye Girl
Country: USA, Japanese
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Herbert Ross
Writers: Neil Simon
Music: Dave Grusin
Cinematography: David M. Walsh
A Neil Simon’s romantic comedy helmed by Herbert Ross, stars his wife of that time, Marsha Mason, who would continue to lead three more pictures based on Simon’s script, and among those four pictures, Mason acquires three Oscar nominations out of them (including this one, CHAPTER TWO 1979 and ONLY WHEN I LAUGH 1981), but more significant is that it won BEST LEADING ACTOR for Richard Dreyfuss, once the youngest winner at the age of 30 until Adrien Brody would unseat him in THE PIANIST (2002).
Paula McFadden (Mason) is a former dancer, she and her ten-year-old daughter Lucy (Cummings) are living with his actor boyfriend, one day, she returns to her apartment and out of the blue, finds out that she is dumped through a letter, her boyfriend deserts them because he has nailed a film contract, and what is worse, before leaving he sublets the apartment to one of his fellow actor Elliot Garfield (Dreyfuss), after an unpleasant first acquaintance, they merely agree to temporally live under the same roof. But Paula’s world has been torn apart, being 32, she is obviously too old to compete in her old vocation, which is quite a grating prejudice of ageism, Elliot is a budding thespian, just being offer a chance play Richard III in an off-off-Broadway production, yet the requirement from the director of playing his role as “the queen who wants to be king”, a stereotyped homosexual style boggles him.
However, the from-foe-to-lover plot (which has become a corny norm in the genre now) of Paula and Elliot has been played out magnificently thanks to Simon’s witty script with utterly delectable bickers, and the two leads shape a dynamic duo since Paula is juggling her insecure temperament of whether or not she should “trust the man” with her inherent attribute of a sucker for romance, whereas for Elliot, his feelings for her is prone to be a love-at-first-sight type, with a patina of verbal negation. Simon does prove that he has a keen eye to man-woman relationship, both sex carry an equal weight during the process and the equilibrium is maintained beautifully until the romance breaks out, not creative but essentially moving. Dreyfuss impresses with his top-notch elocution and genial spirit, leans on a more natural impulse other than rehearsed theatrics to be credible and engaging, also he looks rather older than his real-age, his Oscar victory would be very difficult to repeat now since Academy has shied away from awarding “good-natured” type of excellency decades ago, Elliot basically is a nice young man who has barely any bone to pick with, he is a bit finicky but never aggravates into the dark side.
So does Mason, who possesses an obliging quality and her emotional turbulence is the main allure of the film, she is spontaneously approachable and compassion-arousing, which also functions as a magnet when the same scenario occurs to Elliot, we have no doubt what will happen, but it is Mason’s heartfelt investment pulls off the feel-good ending and leaves us not grudge how lame it is. Also Quinn Cummings is nominated for an Oscar, the levelheaded but sensible daughter is always the catalyst between two adults, she is adorable and never a spoiled nuisance unlike nowadays her equivalents in the same breed.
After all, THE GOODBYE GIRL is a much well-intentioned and well-executed comedy than another Ross-Simon production CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978), definitely a crowd-pleaser.