Today’s romantic comedies, unfortunately, appeal to the lowest common denominator of the moviegoing audience. They follow tired, old formulas from one movie to the next with little in the way of originality. Sure, every once in awhile you get a romantic comedy that transcends stupidity and offers us something new, fresh, and smart (example: My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Sleepless in Seattle). Romantic comedies were not always this bad though. In fact, some of the best dialogue writing ever can be seen in the old Cary Grant comedies. In the 1970s, romantic comedies reflected the times and no longer did we see a woman who existed only to be swept off her feet by a handsome man. Women of the 1970s were career women with kids and a brain. Guys had their work cut out for them. Woody Allen is probably the best example of the 1970 romantic comedy. Another example from this decade is The Goodbye Girl, a film adapted from Neil Simon’s stage play and starring Marsha Mason and Richard Dreyfuss, who became the youngest actor to ever win the Best Actor Academy Award for this film.

The Goodbye Girl is about a ex-Broadway dancer single mom (Mason) and her little girl who have just been abandoned by the mom’s actor boyfriend. To make matters worse, the apartment the mom and girl are living in has been sublet by the boyfriend to another actor (Dreyfuss) who has just arrived from Chicago to star in a play. The actor and mom arrange a deal for the mom and kid to stay, which as you can guess does not result in amicable living arrangements.

The 70s romanticized the life of the struggling theater actor who dreams of hitting Broadway. In addition to The Goodbye Girl, there were other films such as The Chorus Line and Fame. The Goodbye Girl reveals the difficult, almost impossible path people choose when they embark on an acting career. With the shit wages Dreyfus was earning in starring in a off-off-Broadway play and the undoubtedly low pay Mason earned as a auto show model, I kept wondering how these people ever managed to pay the rent, the groceries, the bills, and the kid’s expenses. But this is Hollywood where reality isn’t really reality. Whats appealing about this film as compared to the modern romantic comedy is the gritty, realistic aesthetic of this movie. The actors are not beautiful, their apartment is not furnished by Crate & Barrel, and they experience real problems (i.e. unemployment). Consequently, you empathize with these characters and you actually give a shit whether or not they will get together.

Richard Dreyfuss. Well what can I say other than the man is a genius of an actor. He tends to play eccentric energetic/almost manic idealists. I have always enjoyed watching this actor’s performances and its a real shame he doesn’t act as much as he used to. In 1977, Dreyfus became the youngest actor to ever win the Best Actor Academy Award (age: 30), beating out John Travolta for Saturday Night Fever and Woody Allen for Annie Hall. He gives a tour de force of a performance here as the struggling actor and the film is worth watching for his performance alone.

I’m not as familiar with Marsha Mason other than I know who she is. She does a good job as the single mom and you really feel for her plight as she tries to raise a kid, find a job, and deal with this strange actor in her apartment. She exudes desperation while also retaining a sense of integrity as a woman and a mother. Mason is a bit overshadowed by Dreyfuss’ performance, but she still manages to hold her own. The Goodbye Girl also has the requisite smart-for-her-age kid, but I didn’t mind that so much here. This was probably a new character type in Hollywood at the time and the girl, while a smart aleck, isn’t obnoxious as today’s child characters tend to be.

The Goodbye Girl is a charming New York love story about common folk who despite their life’s struggles, they find love. Its a smartly written story containing sharp dialogue and complex characters, all of which are elements you will not find in today’s romantic comedies. If you’re into chick flicks and you’re sick of watching Sandra Bullock dial in another slight variation of the same character, check this out. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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