September 21, 2018
The Goodbye Girl (1977)
Grade: 76/100

Director: Herbert Ross
Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings

What it's about. Thirty-ish former Broadway dancer Marsha Mason lives in a New York City apartment with her charming ten-year-old daughter Quinn Cummings. She is abandoned by her actor lover, who in his final act sublets their apartment to an unknowing Richard Dreyfuss.

The latter shows up to find Mason and Cummings holding fort, and decides to live with them, instead of having them evicted. Dreyfuss is a nutty actor playing the lead in an off-Broadway revival of Shakespeare's "Richard III". The play's director, Paul Benedict, obligates Dreyfuss to portray the ill-fated king as a flaming homosexual, which we are supposed to find amusing, almost as much so as Mason and Dreyfuss attacked by muggers.

In predictable fashion, Mason and Dreyfuss soon overcome their Odd Couple-style bickering, and enter a romantic relationship. A happy ending arrives when Dreyfuss receives a big break, a West Coast film role, and gallantly decides to take Mason (but not the cumbersome child) with him.

How others will see it. The Goodbye Girl had everything going for it: a famous writer (The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys), a successful director (Play It Again, Sam), and a proven box office lead (Dreyfuss had starred in Jaws and American Graffiti). The movie was acclaimed by critics, was a box office smash, and garnered a slew of Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominations. Dreyfuss won Best Actor at all three of those prestigious film festivals, something that I doubt has often been accomplished.

But today at, the movie has been mostly overlooked. It has 11K user votes, about 1% of the total for Star Wars, which came out the same year. The user rating of 7.4 is fairly high but not particularly impressive. But there are a number of film fans old enough to remember when the movie came out, and they have provided glowing user reviews.

How I felt about it. The Goodbye Girl is a very good movie. This is out of the ordinary, so we must examine why. The four candidates are the director (Herbert Ross), writer (Neil Simon), and two leads (Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason).

All have made both good movies and disappointing ones, but I conclude that (at least this time) the Oscars got it right, and Dreyfuss is the reason that the movie works. Ross' success depends on the quality of the script. Simon's script is serviceable but often mildly annoying, such as the lies that Mason tells to keep the wolf (Dreyfuss) from the door; her behavior to get Dreyfuss into bed; her hot and cold routine the next morning; and the extravagance shown by Dreyfuss (e.g. renting a tux and a horse and carriage) when the couple with child is flat broke.

Mason is certainly plucky, and her figure is impressive, and it must be admitted she does a fine job, even if she was cast because she was the wife of the writer. Now if only she didn't have a haircut like Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange.

Okay, the kid (grade-school aged Quinn Cummings) provides a fine performance. Paul Benedict as the eccentric play director is also fun. So, the film works because of its cast, which includes such odd touches as legendary tennis pro Pancho Gonzales as a mugger.

In fact, it is such a pleasure to see these actors at work that we can overlook Mason threating to beat up her daughter for not getting her a Coke, a defenseless Dreyfuss confronting a car full of criminals, Mason forgetting her lines when Dreyfuss and daughter show up at the car show, and the daughter apparently getting left behind with a stranger in the finale. Not to mention making film attendees and radio listeners endure a really wimpy David Gates theme song. And did our three leads really eat spaghetti gathered off of a city street?