1986 was something of a test-run year for Tom Hanks. Still known exclusively for his comedy (his breakout role in "Big" was still two years away, while his complete journey into full-on drama, with "Philadelphia," wouldn't come for another five years after that), the star was looking to grow as an actor. And so this guy known at the time for "Splash" and "Bachelor Party" signed up for two movies that, while still allowing him to play the smart-aleck (and therefore remain in a comfort zone of sorts), would push him, challenge him, and allow him to reveal to the world that he's not just some silly jokester.
The first, the father-son dramedy "Nothing In Common," became a modest hit, and while it's often viewed today as a "lesser" Hanks movie, it remains well-loved by many devout fans, myself included. The second, a World War II romance titled "Every Time We Say Goodbye," landed a miniscule release and, as a result, an even tinier box office take - it has since become a "forgotten" film from the star's roster, obtaining an obscurity that would be matched only by his pre-"Bosom Buddies" efforts.
"Goodbye" was a co-production between US and Israeli backers, with Moshé Mizrahi directing and Mizrahi, Rachel Fabian, and Leah Appet writing. The film aims to shed some light on the modern culture of the Sephardim, Spanish Jews who fled their nation during the Middle Ages, settled in Jerusalem, and 400 years later continue to speak Ladino, a medieval form of Spanish. We're told all of this in a title card that begins the film, which then allows the script to continue on without having to come to a screeching halt just to teach the audience some history.
All of this becomes secondary to the plot, however, as it's simply the basis for a familiar romance between lovers torn apart by their different backgrounds. Hanks plays David Bradley, an easy-going Yank in the RAF who's been shot down over Africa and is recuperating in a Jerusalem hospital. Through his Brit pal Peter (Benedict Taylor) and Peter's fiancée Victoria (Anat Atzmon), David meets the lovely Sarah (Cristina Marsillach). Love, as it has a tendency to do, blossoms.
Mizrahi is delicate in his pacing, allowing the romance between the two to evolve ever so slowly; they exchange smiles at dinner parties, they engage in long, quiet walks. Their connection is inevitable but never forced, allowing the romance to bloom in gentler ways.
But then there's the matter of the culture clash: she's Sephardim, he's the American son of a Protestant minister. It's this difference that gives Sarah pause, especially when she witnesses the problems had by Peter and Victoria, also of different religions. Sarah's family steps in - wouldn't she rather marry the nice Jewish boy she's known for years, instead of this brash Yankee Gentile - and the film winds up with one of those well-worn "will they or won't they get together?" finales.
The clichés work, however, as the whole project has a particular old-fashioned feel to it. The dialogue, especially in the early scenes, feels as if it were modeled after romance pictures of the 1940s. Not in terms of slang, but in terms of rhythm and style. One can almost imagine the exact same script being used some 45 years earlier, maybe with Tyrone Power in the leading role. (I didn't call Hank's character a "Yank in the RAF" for nothing…) The whole thing has a gentle tone to it that belongs in an earlier era.
And yet it's not nearly as powerful or captivating as it should be. While the premise is well grounded and the characters finely honed, the story meanders in its second half, relying too often on melodrama that doesn't quite connect. The chemistry between Hanks and Marsillach is quite lovely, but the story eventually winds up with a sense of "get on with it!" that bogs the movie down. The finale is touching, but we risk growing bored before it arrives.
The result is a mixed bag effort that's worth watching for the fine performances and inviting style, although they're surrounded in a worn-out premise that clutters things up from time to time.
To the Tom Hanks completist, "Goodbye" has long been a Holy Grail of sorts. All of Hanks' other long-out-of-print-on-VHS "lesser" movies arrived on DVD years ago; "Goodbye" was the lone hold-out. With Sony finally releasing this one, all Hanks fans need now are some season sets of "Bosom Buddies."
The bad news: the disc is a presentation so bare-bones that, unless I was given an early, incomplete version of the disc (it's not marked that way, so I have to assume this is the final version customers will be picking up in stores), doesn't even have a proper menu screen. The copy I received features a generic one-screen menu that does not list the movie title (!), contains no pictures from the film, offers no chapter menu (although chapter breaks are available), and only gives you the choices of selecting subtitles and playing the movie. This has to be an incomplete test version, doesn't it? Doesn't it?!
The film's original 1.85:1 image is captured in a handsome anamorphic transfer. There's some softness throughout, revealing the film's age and low budget, but it's passable.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is also nothing fancy, but nothing shameful, either. English subtitles automatically pop up whenever a character talks in Ladino; optional (full) English, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles are also available.
As mentioned above, none at all. Not even a trailer.
Hanks fanatics should have no qualms about picking this one up, considering the price and its long absence from video stores; there's enough quality work from the star to make the film worth it. For everyone else, though, I can only suggest you Rent It. The film's mediocre disc presentation (including the terrible generic menu) isn't enough to make this decent but not-too-memorable romance worth owning.