the goodbye girl

The Goodbye Girl (1977) was in my Netflix queue, with a prediction of 4 stars. Logline: After being dumped by her live-in boyfriend, an unemployed dancer and her 10-year-old daughter are reluctantly forced to live with a struggling off-Broadway actor.

I don’t know why, exactly, but it feels like a sucker’s bet, waiting for an old, non-new-release movie to arrive in the mail. Like, I’m sure it’s somewhere on TV or online. Also, with so many of these “I was a two-year-old when this was filmed,” I feel like I’ve already seen them, or parts of them, and eh, what’s the point. Despite this delayed thinking, I moved the film to the top of my queue. Then I spent the weekend crying. Those sloppy menstrual tears that make men roll their eyes. And I was brought back to that time in my life when I was a walking psycho. And just for a moment, I missed the hell out of her.

It's like music to the eyes

I’ve been her: the over-analyzer. The pessimist. I was absolutely the crazy girl, not crazy enough to call crazy outright, but had just enough crazy to chase off the right men, and keep the wrong ones wanting more. Really, I could have made money on the way I managed to kill things before they started. It’s why so many of my posts, once upon a blog, involved wishes, wanting so much to find a man who could put up with my crazy. Who didn’t expect me to grow up or change, but who kinda liked my anxiety and unhinged, ape in a cage, ways. I don’t know if I liked being her at the time, but I really do miss her. Does that make any sense?

I miss the way it was just okay to break down and cry, to say the word “hormones,” or blame things on my being a Libra. It was a life lived in feelings, not thought. I didn’t bother with rational. I lived amped up, on fire escapes, falling in love in the rain, being sought after in cabs, strangers running into the street, banging on my taxicab window asking me to please change my mind. It was drama, and it was fantastic.

And THAT is what makes movies sing, makes us sob in a way no man will ever understand: forget the fairytale. We want the sloppy, but it doesn’t make sense, but who the hell cares, somehow we make it make sense love.

goodbye girl stills

I was right. I had seen parts of The Goodbye Girl before, bits and pieces, out of order. While assembling seafood dumplings after one of my spa cuisine classes, I’d caught a few scenes—Richard Dreyfuss with a hump, gnarled fingers, and a “gay lisp”—and I thought, Eh, this part is for the men. Men will think Richard Dreyfuss being forced to play Richard III as a screamingly gay hunchbacked boob is funny. It’s the equivalent of the gratuitous love scene in the shoot ’em ups. I didn’t find any of that funny, but I knew I was supposed to. I feel like so much of me lives in that life, where humor just falls flat for me, it’s too over the top, or too, “Trailer.” You know, the silly scenes they use in trailers to get asses into seats. And I always look around in the theater, amazed. Seriously, you’re laughing at that? It’s almost as if I need a focus group of these crowd laughers, who genuinely seem to laugh at anything Hollywood tells you to. 

I never like that kind of humor, the obvious kind. And I guess that’s what’s so hard. Writing a comedy where the humor isn’t about people walking into clear glass walls or being somewhere they shouldn’t be (like under a bed, when people are having sex, at the kitchen table eating take-out, when people are having sex). So much of comedy is actually about suffering, about Agador trying to wear shoes. So I understand trying to show Dreyfuss as tortured, compromised, livid, and I’m sure I’m the only one, but it felt too Trailer.

Still, when it was over, I walked into our New York guest room and told Phil, one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. It just so happens that along with Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron, I’m in psycho middle of the night love with Neil Simon. Going to read every last one of his scripts now, despite the fact that they’re not huge silly high-concept ideas. His are the kind of movies I want to make, even if they do originate from the stage. I’d rather that than have everything feel so staged.



  1. I love the way you follow through with things, how passionate you get about these things. And I just wanted to thank you for sharing this part of you.

  2. I do love the movie, too; the actors are great. But it is “overacted” , especially when viewed on the tv screen; and would seem to do better as a live play. she especially seems to over-emote.
    love the kid.

  3. I have a question. I have read this blog from jump-street, read your books etc. I get in some ways what so drew you to Phil. However in your adaptation of him in your writing he seemed so capable and ready to deal with your “crazy”, to allow you to be a modern princess type when you wanted and encouraged you to whole hog, seek out your dreams.( Frankly was quite the Cheerleader) . Yet he still seemed very much the man who would take care of things, be strong for you, even a hard wall when needed. Very Alpha, not so much Mama’s boy. It seemed he got your drama. It read that way.

    Now it always reads with tinges of his eye rolling, sarcasm, bitterness,
    and anger. I bet that original Phil you wrote for us is still in there.
    Is he? I hope so-Because your comment about writing scripts in the school of Neil Simon is the most brilliant turn you have made. Even starting out as a play and progressing. If there is one thing I admire about you, it is your color, your intensity and your pure unapologetic CRAZY.

  4. I love dystopian futuristic movies, because I’m weird…I suppose

    but I’ll never turn down a good rom-com or cheesy horror movie

  5. Ain’t nothing wrong with a little hysterical crying at a movie. Lubricates the eyes and the psyche.

  6. Did you know that Quinn Cummings, who plays the little girl in the film is a fabulous blogger and author and looks and sounds just like she did at 10. She is hilarious.

  7. Friday is a classic b/c it was well written & directed even better. The actors made sense & had depth, the humor was situational not forced.

  8. I love your comment about the gratuitous man laughs. I thought I was the only one, too.

  9. I am hard pressed to name favorite movies. However, The Goodbye Girl, California Suite, and Murder by Death, another written by Neil Simon, have been in my top 5 favorite movies since they were released in the mid-70’s.

    Neil Simon is witty, highly quotable, and timeless.

    I think you’d do well to devour everything of his you can.

  10. So funny you should post about this today — I was just telling my 23 year old son about it over lunch yesterday! Love, love, LOVE Neil Simon! (And you probably already knew this, but at the time Marsha Mason was Mrs. Simon.)

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