The Goodbye Girl (1977) | Old Classics… Newly Reviewed


Tackling what Turner Classic Movies shares is an Oscar winning romantic comedy with 1977’s The Goodbye Girl.


Ah, the 70’s. For anyone old enough to remember Jaws, you also remember when Richard Dreyfuss was just considered the cutest damn thing around. Any and every girl would be happy to land him. He was in a ton of romantic comedies, and The Goodbye Girl was probably considered the best.
I saw this, way back when, and I remember loving, just loving, it. Would I love it now, though, was the big question.

Paula McFadden (Marsha Mason) and her 10-year-old daughter, Lucy (Quinn Cummings, writing the book on precocious child actors and their ability to steal scenes) are dumped by Paula’s live-in actor boyfriend, right before they’re all supposed to move from NYC to California. Only, of course, it’s not that simple. Said ex-boyfriend has sublet his apartment to another actor, this one coming in from Chicago, Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss), without telling Paula that he’s essentially dumped her and her child onto the streets at the same time he’s dumped her romantically.
Elliot and Paula fight, of course, but they end up sharing the apartment because Eliot has the legal claim and Paula has possession and Eliot isn’t a jerk and doesn’t want to make Paula and Lucy homeless.

Paula is hot – a former dancer who’s now stuck trying to get back into shape to get work (because Mickey D’s just wasn’t an option, apparently) – but she’s also a hot mess. Elliot is talented, but stuck in the worst version of Richard the III imaginable. Both are struggling to make ends meet. Will they get together and, once they do, will it last, or will Paula one again be the girl the man says goodbye to?

This movie was up for a ton of Oscars, and Dreyfuss won Best Actor. The title song was a huge hit. The critics loved it and so did the audiences. Then. Now? Now I’m hard pressed to like it.
First off, Paula is shrill and obnoxious, in 1977 or 2018. In 1977 Elliot is adorbs. In 2018, he’s very much not. He’s short, chubby, overly bearded, and also obnoxious. Lucy holds up, and remains the best part of the film.

Also, there are apparently no jobs outside of the entertainment industry for Paula and Elliot. I get it, you want to work in your profession. But since you’re going to starve otherwise, perhaps seeing if Macy’s needs employees is a way to go. Paula has enough money to take dance classes, but not to buy groceries. She whines about how old she is – 35 – but does exactly zero to get herself trained for a new career that would support her and her daughter. She’s not going to get dancing jobs – made clear by an audition scene – but she’s not going to do anything else, either. And it’s not because she loves dance. If she loves dance, we don’t know about it.

No, what Paula loves is “being in love”. But what the movie shows us she really likes is being a housewife, a hysteric, a shrew, and spending other people’s money. (This movie has been compared to The Taming of the Shrew and I can see the similarities, but it doesn’t make me like it more in 2018.)
The proof of the spending other people’s money is that the second they have any money at all, Paula’s redecorating their apartment. It’s like the woman has zero sense and zero ability to ensure that she and her daughter won’t starve to death. You seriously get the feeling that Lucy would be a far better choice to manage the family’s finances.

I also don’t buy that Paula fell in love with Elliot, so much as he’s the only man around who seems interested in her, so she’s gonna love him because he’s there.

In 2018, Elliot is no longer a pleasant person you hope wins the girl and saves the day. He’s nasty, and then he’s not, and then he is, and then he’s not. Most of this film consists of Paula and Elliot screaming at each other, with a lot of Paula sucks as a mother and Elliot doesn’t suck as a father stuff thrown in. Also, the time in the film goes by fast – basically, Elliot and Paula fall in love in about a week, maybe two. After being horrible to each other because, of course, that’s how you know it’s “real”.

“The Goodbye Girl”
Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason
1977 Warner Brothers
** I.V.

A note about the play Elliot is in, that Richard the III atrocity. The director is gay and he wants Elliot to play Richard as gay. The homophobia is off the charts in these scenes. I remember them as funny – in 1977. But it’s 2018 and, frankly, if you aren’t woke to the fact that gay people run every gamut just like straight ones, AND if you still think making “California fruit fly” jokes is a great form of humor, why are you even reading this review at this particular website? For starters.
These scenes are horrifically cringe-worthy. I was cringing through all of them, reminding myself that I was just a kid when I found this funny the first time through. But the jokes only work if you buy into every sad and, frankly, inaccurate gay stereotype out there. I don’t. Most people don’t these days. So the centerpiece of the film’s comedy (oh, yes it is) is just an embarrassing reminder that the 1970’s were when gays and women took a page from other minorities and really started pushing back, because this is why the pushback was needed.

This film is also misogynistic. Paula is, as I’ve already said, a hot mess. She’s not a liberated woman in any way, shape, or form. She’s also too stupid to figure out that her ex-boyfriend isn’t going to just let her stay in his apartment for free. She thinks she’s staying there because…she’s an idiot is all I have. She’s also a shrill bitch, and the only reason Elliot likes her is, frankly, because she’s hot. He pretty much says so when they finally get together. Paula is nothing without a man. She is defined by her men and only exists to get their money so she can redo an apartment that doesn’t need redoing. How Child Services hasn’t taken Lucy away before Elliot ever appears is the real mystery of this movie.

I watched this movie remembering how much I’d enjoyed it in the theater way back when, and realizing with a lot of sadness that, while it’s still a well-made and well-acted movie, it’s dated in all the wrong ways. Bachelor Mother, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, and even Trouble in Paradise are all less dated – and all funnier and more romantic – than The Goodbye Girl. My God, Pillow Talk is still a better movie than this one, whether it sets off your triggers or not.

If you loved it first-run, hold onto your memories and don’t re-watch it now, Oscar-winning film or not. The Academy doesn’t always get it right, and it doesn’t always get it right for the long haul. In this case, I’m wishing The Goodbye Girl goodbye forever.

3 stars out of 5
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2 thoughts on “The Goodbye Girl (1977) | Old Classics… Newly Reviewed

  1. Okay, I do think her boyfriend should have let her and Lucy stay there till the lease was up in June after he reneged on taking them to California (and he said in his letter he wished he could do something for them). That would honestly be a pretty low bar after she was in the housewife role for however long and they planned to move out of state together. He could have made the sublet for a month later and given her 30 days’ notice. Even a roommate is entitled to 30 days’ notice unless they’re a danger to you or something.

    I would have been a lot more devastated by what happened than she was. And the next day, she is told about the sublet. Yeah, she should have realized Tony is an evil jerk and checked with the landlady or manager, but there wasn’t a lot of time in between her shock and the landlady (I’ll assume) telling her about the sublet. Not sure when palimony became a thing, but she might have had a good case.

    Anyway, I just watched this movie and found your blog by googling “goodbye girl homophobia.”

  2. LOL yeah, the difference between how this felt first run and how it feels today is extreme. Far more extreme than almost any movie from the 20’s, 30’s, or 40’s.

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