Fans of the original Herbert Ross production of The Goodbye Girl, starring Marsha Mason, Richard Dreyfuss and Quinn Cummings will likely find this rehash simply that. But if you have never seen this film, you probably would wonder what all the fuss is about. In this rendition, Patricia Heaton is given the task of Mason's in the earlier film to portray a woman shy of romance because of her previous failures. Hallie Kate Eisenberg is charged with the unenviable task of replacing the spunky Quinn Cummings, the daughter of Paula McFadden. And poor Jeff Daniels, one of my favorite actors, must try to tackle the role given immortality by Richard Dreyfuss. You must remember that Dreyfuss took home the Best Actor statuette at the Oscars in 1979 for this movie.
I found that Heaton took full control of her role and, in many ways, inhabited the character with traits unexplored by Mason. I have always found Mason's performance to be slightly theatric, especially given the line (kept in this version), "I'm angry, I don't want to lose it." This is an actor's line, not a dancer's, but this fault lies more in Neil Simon's writing than either performance. There were times when I found myself missing a certain Mason look or response to Elliott, but I enjoyed Heaton's performance and especially applauded her take on the "Cute, definitely cute" scene.
There's not much to say about little Eisenberg. She could never do what Cumming's did in the original. I don't think anyone could. I don't care for little Hallie all that much anyway, for she is quite annoying, but given the material and her task, she did not take too much away from this production.
What I found truly lacking was Daniels' performance. Yet again, it was no small task to get us to forget Richard Dreyfuss and believe in this. Martin Short probably had it easier on Broadway, as that was produced as a musical and thus could travel where the movie does not. But I found Daniels lying down on lines that Dreyfuss chewed with abandon. There are so many exciting and original things Richard Dreyfuss included in his characterization; I doubt I gave Daniels much of a chance.
Still, I can applaud certain choices when I see them, such as the take on "All you have to do...is be nice to me." I have always felt that the way Dreyfuss said it in the '79 film would easily lead Mason's character to the opinion that he wanted her to give him sexual favors, the direction the scene goes in the movie. But the intent was honorable and Daniels gets this across with his reading. And most importantly was the morning hangover scene after Elliott's failed one and only performance of Richard III as the "Wicked Witch of the North." This was another disagreement I had with the Dreyfuss performance. At one point, he stops being hung over and begins going about his business without an afterthought to the poisons rolling around in his body. Daniels plays it through and it works much better, especially leading to the "Cute, definitely cute" scene mentioned above.
Give these observations, it seems that I can only see the true Daniels' performance when he actually does something better than Dreyfuss and only then. Any other moment in the movie, I want Dreyfuss to say in his particular cadence "so keep your salt n pepa to yourself" or "I am in a blissful state so don't bug me" and especially "so cry on the hoarsy," a reading Daniels threw away in this movie.
I think the updating probably took away from this version as well. It's true that some of the original lines do not work as well in 2004 as they did in 1979, but there is charm in some of what is said back then where the updating seems slightly forced. I'm not sure who's task it was to do this, be it Simon, who still gets the sole writing credit, or some producer, or possibly the actors themselves. One that particularly bugged me was the repeated reference to "revivals" in this film. Granted, that's all Broadway seems to do these days, in terms of musicals, but it got old pretty fast.
TNT is certainly not depriving it's viewers the chance to see this updated take, with showings daily throughout the weekend and who knows how much longer, but do yourself a favor. Go to your local video store and pick up the 1979 movie. You will not be disappointed by this charming romantic comedy. In fact, I am sure it will become an instant classic in your library. That is all.