Monday, November 10, 2008

Marsha Mason, The Goodbye Girl




Marsha Mason is an actress I always knew about, but hadn’t really seen her in (any?) movies. That was before I watched Only When I Laugh (1981) a couple of weeks ago and, right after that, the fabulous The Goodbye Girl. I must admit, just by judging her in these 2 films, I fell in love with her! If you’ve seen them, you know what I mean. She’s like a mother, or a sister; so down-to-earth and likeable. And, of course, she benefits of her (ex-)husband’s great writings. It’s a pleasure to write about Marsha…
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approximately 71 minutes and 14 seconds
65.8% of the film
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The Goodbye Girl
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.
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Just like Annie Hall, this was also a Best Picture nominee (in fact, all 5 nominated actresses are representing Best Picture movies). 1977 was a great year for films. I praised Annie Hall in the previous post and I’m gonna do the same with The Goodbye Girl; though both comedies, these are very different films. It’s ok to say that The Goodbye Girl is a simple traditional film: girl gets dumped, girl meets boy, girl hates boy, boy hates girl, girl loves boy, boy loves girl. You can add some excellent writing by the famous Neil Simon and two leading performers perfectly fit for their roles. The dialogue is witty, smart, everything you could hope for. With the help of Marsha Mason, the film develops in a very romantic story, with lots of heart, humor (I really laughed) and nice feelings without being cheesy. I was practically smiling like an idiot the entire film and I’m not the romantic kind, but was really touched by it. :)
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Marsha Mason as Paula McFadden
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Paula is this nice kind woman, a good mother, but a very unlucky girl when it comes to men. Especially if they’re actors. The film debuts with her finding out (through a note) that she has been dumped by her boyfriend. It’s a big scene just as the film starts. It’s dramatic, yet written and acted with a touch of humor sustained by Marsha Mason, but also by the kid playing her daughter. I didn’t know what to think of it first; the tears are there, but do I believe her reactions?
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It took a second and third viewing of the scene to realize that Marsha is on top of her game, trying in a professional way NOT to make a big fuss out of it, but make it seem like a simple fact of life. It doesn’t inspire tragedy, but you feel sorry for her. She has tears in her eyes, but after taking in the shock you are able to detect (with the help of Marsha’s acting) that she’s gonna move on sooner than we think. In her performance, Marsha mixes things up, going a bit for childish rather than mature (her daughter taking the adult seat for a minute or so), probably trying to make Paula seem human & vulnerable – two attributes that will define the character.
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Then she meets Elliot Garfield and, due to a stretched storyline :) I won’t get into, the three of them have to share the apartment. This is the situation that will generate most of the comedy. Though not personally, Paula hates Elliot because of what he represents: a pain in the ass. Both are stubborn people and the chemistry between the actors is great, enforced by the witty remarks and sharp dialogue.
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As the two start to hit it off a bit, there’s a scene where some armed men steal her purse. It’s so heartbreaking to see her cry, because that was all the money she had. She’s there on the ground picking up the pasta and through Marsha’s convincing portrayal we feel like she’s alone in the world and there’s no one to give her a helping hand. Lots of heart to it.
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Paula starts to grow fond of her strange flatmate. There’s a scene (something of a monologue) where she kind of admits of being stubborn herself, trying to say she’s sorry and reach out to him. Unfortunately for her, Elliot was sleeping so he didn’t hear a thing she said :) Martha makes it believable adding lots of emotion to everything she does.
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So he makes a romantic move on her, but she’s a bit reluctant to move from a freshly developed friendship to something more. It all has humor and it’s funny and sweet to see her trying to resist the temptation of saying yes. By now we totally know she likes him, but I can understand why she’d hesitate.
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But Elliot knows his game, so he makes a romantic move that really really impresses Paula, setting up dinner on the top of their building. She’s so excited, nervous, impressed and you can read all that on her face because Marsha really knows how to express the feelings of a character, she knows Paula so fell and feels very comfortable in her skin.
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And they have fun and make love, but the next day she’s the goodbye girl, totally running away from her feelings. And Elliot, who’s ready for a steady relationship, tells her all that in her face. It’s a very funny balcony scene, acted great by both actors.
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Paula realizes that he’s right and that she’s trying to run away from him, to act like nothing has happened. But Elliot’s different from the other men and Paula is finally seeing that. Just look at her facial expression (the picture above), it’s marvelous, terrific, the happy ending that makes us smile and be glad for her.
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Yet, there is a small crisis and Marsha’s acting skills really hit jackpot here :) He has to leave for a couple of weeks and, although at first she fears he won’t come back and history’s repeating itself, she quickly realizes she herself has changed. With tears in her eyes she tells him that and now she’s strong enough to land on her feet even if he might not come back. It’s a crucial moment in the film. And then the classic ending…
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The guitar scene just before the credits roll. He left his guitar behind (his most personal object) just to assure her he WILL be back. Words can’t describe how romantic, loving, unbelievable touching this ending is. The screenplay’s perfect.

Conclusion:

Just as I said about Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, Marsha Mason is a natural. She’s so into the character it’s unbelievable. But, Marsha’s performance shows another quality: helped by the screenplay, she puts tons of heart in her character, she charms us with a tear of with a smile and the performance becomes so manipulative, but in the best possible way. I give her because it’s a type of comedy performance I almost never see: one that moves me.


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1 comment:

stingo said...

I recently discovered Marsha Mason when I subtitled "Audrey Rose" and I was blown away. She is such a great actress, I am surprised that I never heard of her before!