The Goodbye Girl is yet another proof that it's the execution, and not the premise, that matters when it comes to putting together a piece of entertainment that's excellent, rings true, and doesn't condescend to its audience. One quick look at the premise by those who've never heard of this film will surely convince them that they'll watch one of those hacky and lame Matthew McConaughey/Kate Hudson rom-coms from the early 2000s: A woman who just got dumped by her boyfriend has to become roommates with a man she can't stand. As the two bicker over everything, a romance begins to unfold.
It's hard not to groan at this idea and predict every single plot point before even seeing a single frame of the finished product. However, The Goodbye Girl is an absolute delight from beginning to end, a heartwarming romantic comedy that manages the impossible: Put together an escapist modern fairy tale scenario that makes the audience feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, delivered through a screenplay that fully understands the realistic complications of romance between two damaged adults, and an execution that doesn't condescend to the audience for even a minute. It shows that a romantic ideal of happiness, despite confronting the many real hang-ups adults have around modern romance, is possible without blowing smoke up their asses through bad sit-com writing recited by glorified GQ models.
You might say that The Goodbye Girl's success lies in the fact that it came out in the 70s, before modern romantic comedies "ruined the genre". I think the answer is much simpler than that: It had a great writer, a great director, and a great cast. Let's begin with the writer: Neil Simon is one of the kings, amongst Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder, of blending tight and witty theatrical writing with a loose and realistic handle on human nature. Every character is a mouthpiece to his worldview, yet they somehow manage to turn into people with unique voices, people we can emotionally relate to in under a minute.
The director Herbert Ross, is experienced in directing dramas and comedies with almost a docudrama style of human empathy, no matter how ridiculous the concept might be. For proof, look at the emotional heft of the original Footloose, directed by Ross, to the bland artificiality of the recent remake. In The Goodbye Girl, he finds a nice balance between safe soundstage scenes (The apartment where most of the film takes place), and the grainy handheld look of the New York City on location scenes. These scenes especially make us believe that the characters live and breathe this city, as Ross brings a direct rawness that resembles the Maysles Brothers' documentary work.
Yet it's the chemistry between the two leads that makes the film truly work. Richard Dreyfuss, who deserved his Best Actor Oscar win, is captivating as an eccentric but warmhearted actor who moves into the apartment. The great Marsha Mason has an effortless-looking charm as the dancer who got dumped repeatedly by actors, and is understandably weary about forging a romance with another one. Just look at how charming yet emotionally resonant the obligatory scene where the two characters kiss for the first time pans out. It doesn't happen in an artificially romantic setting as the moon rises above our protagonists. The actor makes his move while the dancer brushes her teeth in an evenly lit bright bathroom. Yet the scene is far more beautiful and emotionally engaging than any spiffy rom-com you can throw at me. The characters are genuinely having a great time, goofing off as they make out around the bathroom, while the underlying fear by Mason's character about committing to someone so soon after heartbreak is always communicated. This is how real romance goes down, it's messy, complicated, and beautiful.
The 1080p transfer gorgeously recreates the film's docudrama look, with a healthy amount of grain, nice contrast, and no video noise.
The DTS-HD 2.0 track actually represents the film's mono mix, which is an ongoing pet peeve of mine. If the mix is mono, it should be a 1.0 track. Regardless of that, the mix is handled really well, with clear dynamic dialogue, which is what really matters when watching a film written by Neil Simon.
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Rewatching The Goodbye Girl was a breath of fresh air during the depression felt after the recent election results. In a world that's being filled with more and more ugliness, here's a film that compassionately yet realistically shows that heaven on earth can be found through two vastly different people daring to emotionally opening themselves to one another.