…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
In The Goodbye Girl, Marsha Mason plays Paula McFadden, a down-on-her-luck former dancer in New York who has a penchant for falling head over heels for actors who run at the first sign of commitment. As the title suggests, Paula feels cursed with being a girl that men only say goodbye to. When she comes home to an empty apartment and a farewell note at the start of the film, her precocious 10 year-old daughter (Quinn Cummings) in tow, she vows never to fall for another goofy actor again.
Enter Elliot Garfield (Richard Dreyfuss), yet another (you guessed it) actor who has moved to New York City to take on the titular role in a – much to his surprise and dismay – flamboyant off-Broadway production of Shakespeare’s “Richard III”. Trouble is, Paula’s ex has already sublet her apartment to Elliot without her knowing it. After much arguing back and forth, Paula reluctantly takes Elliot in, feeling she has no other choice. In what is perhaps a predictable turn of events, Paula finds herself – after a shaky period of adjustment – falling for Elliot and his quirky actor ways – and he for her, despite her constant rigidity and coolness. Paula is frightened to take another chance on love, fearing the inevitable time when she will have to say goodbye, breaking both her heart and her daughter’s all over again. The story holds out hope that Elliot is different – and I won’t give away the ending for those of you wanting to see it (though trust me, a cursory glance at the Wikipedia entry for this film will give you the entire synopsis!).
The script for this film in really quite charming; it was penned by Neil Simon, who was subsequently nominated for an Academy Award. The only times I found it a tad unbelievable were in Mason’s interactions with Cummings as her daughter. Cummings – who was also nominated as Supporting Actress – plays the precocious card extremely well, but I was almost unnerved by the blunt matter-of-factness and maturity with which mother and daughter conversed, at times. It did illustrate a solid and very trusting and loving relationship between the two, however, and demonstrated their complete dependence upon one another, so I cannot fault it too much.
At the beginning of the film, I found Mason’s acting a little too forced and contrived. She improved and became more meaningful as the film progressed. It is a surety that Elliot’s production of “Richard III” will fail (his director forces him to play Richard as a flaming gay man, which goes against all of Elliot’s preparation and principles for the role), and Mason’s portrayal of Paula almost becomes more radiant and strong as the ever energetic and neurotic Elliot momentarily needs to succumb to his failures. As her barriers break down, he sees the chance to open the door wider into her heart – and Mason does a fine job of showing Paula’s initial reluctance leading into her ecstatic acceptance of Elliot’s advances. Dreyfus and Mason are a sweet pair.
While Richard Dreyfuss nabbed the Best Actor trophy for playing Elliot, Mason lost the Oscar to Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Mason had previously been nomimated for Cinderella Liberty in 1973 and would go on to garner nominations for Chapter Two in 1979 and Only When I Laugh in 1981. Four times nominated, Mason never won Actress, but has enjoyed a successful film, television, and stage career nonetheless.