The Goodbye Girl is more obscured by time than lack of respect or ticket sales, as it was quite popular back in the day. It has a 7.3 rating at IMDB and 87% at Rotten Tomatoes. The movie was released in 1977 and was nominated for five Oscars, with Richard Dreyfuss winning Best Actor.* But if you’re under the age of forty you’re probably only familiar with it if you caught it on TV or your mom owns a copy.
Marsha Mason plays the part of a single mother who isn’t too good at picking men and is unceremoniously dumped at the beginning of the movie via a note left on the mantel of her New York apartment. Richard Dreyfuss plays an actor, fresh from out of town for his big stage debut, with a sublet lease in his pocket for Mason’s apartment. Her boyfriend secretly made the deal, leaving Mason and her daughter, played by Quinn Cummings, high and dry. They decide to share the apartment, and hilarity and romance ensue.
Neil Simon wrote the memorable script. I’m not one of those people who can rattle off lines from movies, but it only took seeing the film once for a lot of the dialogue to sink permanently into the depths of my brain. I just watched the movie again, for what was only the third or fourth time stretched over thirty-five years. Yet, over half of the dialogue was familiar, as if the last time I’d seen it was last week, rather than a couple decades ago.
It’s not difficult to level criticisms at The Goodbye Girl. It’s sentimental and shallow. The characters have no depth to speak of, they’re all just really good with words, tossing off one-liners and sarcastic asides with ease. But if I were asked to sum the movie up with one word I would choose: charming. And don’t forget: funny. The dialogue is witty and intelligent.
The casting is what really elevates The Goodbye Girl into enjoyable entertainment with lasting value. Dreyfuss and Mason have great screen chemistry, and both of them are so darn cute. Cummings is fantastic as the precocious ten-year-old daughter and holds her own with the two experienced actors, easily keeping up with the fast-paced dialogue.
Given the age of the movie, I’m surprised that it holds up as well as it does. It doesn’t feel nearly as dated as many movies from the 70s do. So if you’re looking for a lesser known romantic comedy for your next movie night, or for the next time you need some cheering up, consider giving The Goodbye Girl a try.
* Dreyfuss was thirty when he won the Oscar. He was the youngest actor to win the award until Adrien Brody won for The Pianist in 2002 at 29 years of age.