|The Goodbye Girl|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Herbert Ross|
|Produced by||Ray Stark|
|Written by||Neil Simon|
|Music by||Dave Grusin|
|Cinematography||David M. Walsh|
|Edited by||John F. Burnett|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$102 million|
The Goodbye Girl is a 1977 American romantic comedy-drama film produced by Ray Stark, directed by Herbert Ross and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason, Quinn Cummings and Paul Benedict. The original screenplay by Neil Simon centers on an odd trio: a struggling actor who has sublet a Manhattan apartment from a friend, the current occupant (his friend's ex-girlfriend, who has just been abandoned), and her precocious young daughter.
The film became the first romantic comedy to earn 100 million dollars in box office grosses.
Dancer Paula McFadden (Marsha Mason) and her ten-year-old daughter Lucy (Quinn Cummings) live in a Manhattan apartment with her married boyfriend, Tony DeForrest, until one day, he deserts her to go and act in a film in Italy. Before he left and unbeknownst to Paula, Tony subleased the apartment to Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss), a neurotic but sweet aspiring actor from Chicago, who shows up in the middle of the night expecting to move in. Though Paula is demanding and also neurotic, and makes clear from the start that she doesn't like Elliot, he allows her and Lucy to stay.
Paula struggles to get back into shape to resume her career as a dancer. Meanwhile, Elliot has landed the title role in an off-off-Broadway production of Richard III, but the director, Mark (Paul Benedict), wants him to play the character as an exaggerated stereotype of a homosexual, in Mark's words, "the queen who wanted to be king." Reluctantly, Elliot agrees to play the role, despite full knowledge that it may mean the end of his career as an actor. Many theater critics from television stations and newspapers in New York City attend the opening night, and they all savage the production, especially Elliot's performance. The play quickly closes, much to his relief.
Despite their frequent clashes and Paula's lack of gratitude for Elliot's help, the two fall in love and sleep together. However, Lucy, although she likes Elliot, sees the affair as a repeat of what happened with Tony. Elliot convinces Paula that he will not be like that and later picks up Lucy from school and takes her on a carriage ride, during which Lucy admits that she likes Elliot, and he admits that he likes her and Paula and will not do anything to hurt them.
Elliot gets a job at an improvisational theatre, and is soon seen by a film producer. He is offered an opportunity for a role in a film that he cannot turn down, the only catch being that the job is in Seattle and Elliot will be gone for four weeks. Paula is informed of this and is scared that Elliot is leaving her, never to return, like all the other men in her life. Later, Elliot calls Paula from the phone booth across the street from the apartment, telling her that the flight was delayed, and at the last minute, Elliot invites Paula to go with him while he is filming the picture and suggests Lucy stay with a friend until they return. Paula declines but is happy because she knows that Elliot's invitation is evidence that he loves her and will come back. Before hanging up, Elliot asks Paula to have his prized guitar restrung, which he had deliberately left at the apartment, and she realizes this as further proof that he will indeed return and that he really does love her.
The film began as a screenplay called Bogart Slept Here (essentially the story of what happened to Dustin Hoffman after he became a star), that was to star Robert De Niro and Mason for Warner Bros. It would have been the film De Niro would have made immediately after Taxi Driver. Mike Nichols was hired to direct.
Simon recalled the original idea for the film:
The basic idea of the story was that Marsha, an ex-dancer, was married to a very promising but struggling off-Broadway actor who gets discovered in a small play and is whisked out to Hollywood, where he reluctantly moves with his family. He feels very out of place there...and they have trouble adjusting, especially after his first film makes him an international star...and it creates chaos in their marriage. The story was coming out a little darker than I had imagined, but I envisioned the character of the wife as a very good role for Marsha.
Filming began on Bogart Slept Here when it became apparent that De Niro wasn't right for the role. Simon recalled: "...it was clear that any of the humor I had written was going to get lost. It's not that De Niro is not funny, but his humor comes mostly from his nuances, a bemused expression on his face or the way he would look at a character, smile and then look up at the ceiling." Nichols insisted on recasting De Niro. Soon after, Nichols left the project.
Dreyfuss was brought in to try out with Mason. At the end of the reading, Neil Simon decided that the chemistry was there, but the script needed work. He rewrote the screenplay in six weeks.
[The screenplay] had to be funnier, more romantic, the way Marsha and I first imagined the picture would be. What I wanted to do was a prequel. In other words, instead of an off-Broadway actor, married with a child, why don't I start from the beginning? I'd start when they first meet. Not liking each other at first and then falling in love.
The film's exteriors were shot in New York City and the interiors were shot on sets in Los Angeles. Warner Bros. was less enthused about Simon's script, and considered selling the project to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, while others at the studio preferred to partner MGM on the film, so this option was chosen. With the 1996 acquisition of Turner Entertainment Company, which owned the pre-May 1986 MGM film library by Time Warner, Warner Bros. now controls the rights and distribution of the movie.
Roger Ebert gave the film a mostly favorable review, awarding three stars out of four. He was unimpressed with Mason's performance and the character as written, calling it "hardly ever sympathetic." However, he praised Dreyfuss and cited his Richard III scenes as "the funniest in a movie since Mel Brooks staged Springtime for Hitler." Ebert criticized the beginning as "awkward at times and never quite involving," but "enjoyed its conclusion so much that we almost forgot our earlier reservations."Gene Siskel awarded an identical three-star grade and said, "Make no mistake about it, the very best thing about 'The Goodbye Girl' is the character of Elliot Garfield as played by Dreyfuss, a character that comes very close to Dreyfuss' own self-and-profession centered lifestyle. But like Dreyfuss himself, Elliott Garfield, who initially comes off as [a] pushy, prickly type, ultimately wins you over."Vincent Canby of The New York Times found the film to be "exhausting without being much fun" and "relentlessly wisecracked."Charles Champlin of The Los Angeles Times lauded it as "the best and most blissfully satisfying romantic comedy of the year and then some." Arthur D. Murphy of Variety called the film "another feather in Herbert Ross' directorial cap," with Dreyfuss giving "his best screen performance to date." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote that the film "evolves into the most satisfying comedy Simon has written directly for the movies. One tolerates the plot mechanics for the sake of the genuinely amusing aspects of his script, the bright remarks and the distinctive or appealing character traits that provide good performers with live ammunition."Pauline Kael of The New Yorker was negative, commenting, "It' not Neil Simon's one-liners that get you down in 'The Goodbye Girl,' it's his two-liners. The snappiness of the exchanges is so forced it's almost macabre."David Ansen of Newsweek said, "It's pure formula, and Simon plays it straight, all cards on the table, with the conservative professionalism of a gambler used to winning. As directed by the ubiquitous Herbert Ross, The Goodbye Girl is a modest, bittersweet comedy that will delight Simon fans and leave his critics staunchly unconverted."
Thirty-year-old Dreyfuss was, at that time, the youngest ever to win the Best Actor Oscar. This record stood for 25 years until it was broken by Adrien Brody, who was one month shy of 30 when he won for The Pianist.
There were three failed attempts to turn The Goodbye Girl into a half-hour, television sitcom, according to Lee Goldberg's book "Unsold Television Pilots." The first pilot aired on NBC in May 1982 and was entitled Goodbye Doesn't Mean Forever, starred Karen Valentine and Michael Lembeck, and was directed by James Burrows from a script by Allan Katz. The second, unaired pilot was produced a year later starring Jobeth Williams and was directed by Charlotte Brown from a script by Brown and Pat Nardo. The third pilot, which also never aired, once again starred Valentine and was directed by Jay Sandrich.
On October 25, 2016, it was announced on the Home Theater Forum: that The Goodbye Girl will be released by WAC (Warner Archive Collection) on High Definition Blu-ray on November 8, 2016.