Tag Archives: Neil Simon

The Goodbye Girl (1977, Herbert Ross)

The Goodbye Girl is excessively genial. Usually at the expense of lead Marsha Mason. It’s her movie too. Not hers to lose, because it’s so much her movie–she’s The Goodbye Girl–instead hers to be taken away. And take it away writer Neil Simon does. The film starts being about single mom Mason getting dumped by her live-in boyfriend. He’s a New York actor, she was a Broadway dancer. He goes to Italy, dumping her and the kid (Quinn Cummings) instead of taking them to L.A. as promised.

Of course, the ex-boyfriend is never in the movie. He’s got his pictures up all over the apartment, but he’s never in the movie. It’s the best thing Simon and director Ross end up doing in the film. The establishing of this awful ex-boyfriend just through exposition and visual suggestion.

The ex sublets the apartment out from under Mason and Cummings. Enter Richard Dreyfuss, Chicago actor come to New York, subletter.

The apartment is central to the film. Simon’s script has play trappings while still paced like a movie; Ross never goes stagy. The direction’s not great, but it has a lot of depth. The apartment becomes gradually familiar in the first half of the film. It becomes comfortable. Even though Mason and ten-year old Cummings are living with part-time nudist, wheat germ enthusiast Dreyfuss. Though all of Dreyfuss’s first act eccentricities disappear right after being established.

Goodbye Girl has some behind-the-scenes drama and some of it might explain Simon’s disjointed script. But the lack of consistency just comes off as lazy. It makes a lot of Simon’s set pieces come off contrived. Especially once they become at the expense of Mason. First couple times, it’s not at the expense of screentime for her, it’s at the expense of her performance. See, once Dreyfuss warms to Mason–which seems impossible after their first few scenes together–and takes a liking to Cummings (who’s likable in the thinnest part in Simon’s atomic-thin cast of characters), he sort of starts stalking her. Like he goes to her job to mess with her.

Then Mason stops doing anything but decorating; once she and Dreyfuss do hook up, she stops caring about anything except redecorating.

The movie has some problems with plotting. Ross doesn’t do summary well so it’s never clear how long they’re living together before the third act. It just makes for a disjointed picture–Dreyfuss and Mason go from bickering funny to romantically funny in about five minutes. And it’s Dreyfuss becoming a completely different character.

That character is far from an organic development. The movie doesn’t even really acknowledge that his character is developing. While he should be warming up to Mason and Cummings, Dreyfuss is busy in the play from hell subplot with Paul Benedict as a misguided but insistent director.

So, while Dreyfuss is doing all that stuff, Mason gets to keep her movie. Then she loses it.

By the finale, all Goodbye Girl has got keeping it going is the charm of its three stars. Because everyone else in Goodbye Girl is disposable. It’s just Dreyfuss, Mason, and Cummings. If their parts were stronger, it’d be enough. If their parts were at least consistent, it might be enough.

The film’s dramatically inert. But pleasant–even when it’s being creepy–and amiably acted. David M. Walsh’s photography doesn’t help with the excess geniality. His lighting is too soft. Dave Grusin’s score is a little light too. Everything in Goodbye Girl is too thin, too soft, or too light. They have to be to match Simon’s unsubstantial script.



Directed by Herbert Ross; written by Neil Simon; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by John F. Burnett; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Ray Stark; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Marsha Mason (Paula McFadden), Quinn Cummings (Lucy McFadden), Richard Dreyfuss (Elliot Garfield), Paul Benedict (Mark), Barbara Rhoades (Donna), and Theresa Merritt (Mrs. Crosby).



Seems Like Old Times (1980, Jay Sandrich)

Seems Like Old Times is an enthusiastic homage to the screwball comedy. Most of the action takes place at Goldie Hawn’s house, where she’s trying to hide fugitive ex-husband Chevy Chase from current husband–and district attorney–Charles Grodin. She’s a public defender who takes in all of her clients, giving them jobs so they can provide comic relief in their interactions with Grodin and his straight-laced pals.

It’s not a successful homage to the screwball comedy, unfortunately. Neil Simon’s script doesn’t have the rapid fire dialogue. He lets Chase sleepwalk through the film. Chase has some charm and he’s got some decent moments, but he’s barely in the film. Old Times goes more on Hawn not having chemistry with Grodin than it does on rebuilding chemistry between Chase and Hawn. Maybe because the problem isn’t her marriage, but him being on the lamb. And barely in the movie.

But even if Simon’s script were full of rapid fire dialogue to give it that screwball comedy feel–outside the absurd yet domestic antics–director Sandrich wouldn’t know what to do with it. Because Simon occasionally goes have a phenomenal scene, usually involving Harold Gould’s judge. Gould’s doing a mild Groucho and it works beautifully. But Sandrich doesn’t direct his cast towards energy, quite the opposite. Grodin walks away with the middle half of the film just because he’s actually being active. Hawn’s reduced to sitting around and waiting for something to happen to her.

And even if Sandrich directed it all perfectly, Michael A. Stevenson wouldn’t cut it together well. He holds takes too long, holds reactions shots too long. Seems Like Old Times is too slow. Having a fast moving Marvin Hamlisch score only does so much, especially since it’s not a particularly good score. It’s got good moments, but overall, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The acting is all solid, some better than others. Hawn’s best when she’s not with Chase as Simon reduces her to the straight man while tranquilizing Chase to the point no one’s running the scene. She’s still Goldie Hawn, after all; she’s adorable. Chase’s funny. Grodin’s funny. Robert Guillaume’s funny. George Grizzard’s pretty good in a small part. Gould’s great. T.K. Carter’s kind of great; he’d be better if Simon gave him all strong material instead of occasionally falling back on young black kid with white folks humor.

Seems Like Old Times should be a lot better. But it’s still got some solid laughs, a lot of smiles and a reasonable amount of charm.



Directed by Jay Sandrich; written by Neil Simon; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by Michael A. Stevenson; music by Marvin Hamlisch; production designer, Gene Callahan; produced by Ray Stark; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Glenda Parks), Charles Grodin (Ira Parks), Chevy Chase (Nicholas Gardenia), Robert Guillaume (Fred), Harold Gould (Judge John Channing), Yvonne Wilder (Aurora), T.K. Carter (Chester), Judd Omen (Dex), Marc Alaimo (B.G.) and George Grizzard (Governor).


Murder by Death (1976, Robert Moore)

Writer Neil Simon did not adapt Murder by Death from one of his plays, which I’ve always assumed he did. While the film does have a more theatrical structure–a great deal of Death is the cast in one room–the action does follow the characters around and some of their experiences would be impossible without cinematic storytelling.

Simon’s structure for the film, which takes its time not just introducing the characters, but the mystery and all the elements involved, is brilliant. Death‘s a spoof and practically a spoof of a spoof, something Simon plays with in the dialogue. He’s very playful in the dialogue–there’s a great exchange with David Niven, Alec Guinness and Maggie Smith where Smith’s character gets tired of listening to Simon’s banter. And Simon discreetly gets it in. Death isn’t about misdirection, it’s about being so constantly funny the viewer can no longer anticipate gags.

Besides the actors–everyone is outstanding, with Eileen Brennan and James Coco probably being the best. James Cromwell is also really good as Coco’s sidekick. And Peter Sellers as the Charlie Chan stand-in can only get funnier with Peter Falk’s Sam Spade analogue harassing him. It’s hard to list all the funny moments because there are ninety-some minutes of them.

Moore’s direction is ideal. He doesn’t get in the way of the cast or the script. Great Dave Grusin music.

Death is utterly fantastic. It doesn’t even matter the film’s narrative doesn’t work. Simon’s a very funny guy.



Directed by Robert Moore; written by Neil Simon; director of photography, David M. Walsh; edited by John F. Burnett; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Stephen B. Grimes; produced by Ray Stark; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Eileen Brennan (Tess Skeffington), Truman Capote (Lionel Twain), James Coco (Milo Perrier), Peter Falk (Sam Diamond), Alec Guinness (Bensonmum), Elsa Lanchester (Jessica Marbles), David Niven (Dick Charleston), Peter Sellers (Sidney Wang), Maggie Smith (Dora Charleston), Nancy Walker (Yetta, the cook), Estelle Winwood (Nurse Withers), James Cromwell (Marcel) and Richard Narita (Willie Wang).