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Overall Rating
3.24

Awesome: 23.53%
Worth A Look: 11.76%
Average41.18%
Pretty Bad: 11.76%
Total Crap: 11.76%

1 review, 11 user ratings


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Looking for Mr.Goodbar
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by Brad Wilber

"No, it definitely ain't candy in any sense!"
3 stars

Prior to 1977, Diane Keaton had two claims to fame—as the screen embodiment of Kay Corleone and as a screwball inspiration for Woody Allen in films like PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, SLEEPER, and LOVE AND DEATH. Somewhat ironically, in a year when Keaton's collaboration with Allen reached its zenith in ANNIE HALL, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR announced her as an actress who also had the potential to carry a drama on her own. I say “potential” because even though Keaton slogs along gamely as Miss Theresa Dunn and earns points in every area except for Vocalizations of Arousal (her in flagrante “Sweet God!” sounds more like she has been asked to clean an outhouse), she is hampered by the downbeat and amorphous “statement” being made about her character.

The basic question: how far can we criticize the film if "downbeat" and "amorphous" are faithful to the source? Judith Rossner’s wildly controversial and successful novel of the same title is an acid cautionary tale about the dangers of anonymous, promiscuous sex—which, she suggests, is fraught with randomness and puts on parade all of the stalled maturity and irresolute behaviors of the participants. The folly of such lack of direction and commitment soon becomes obvious to the audience but remains hidden from Rossner’s seekers to the end. The story demands that we be denied all but a minimal character arc, but it makes our ride rather dreary.

“Dreary” does not necessarily mean “faulty,” I know. Dreary can have an obsidian brilliance about it. Where the collapse of craft comes is mostly in the last half hour. Scenes designed to show the collision between Theresa's exemplary daytime life and her sketchy nocturnal pursuits are staged listlessly. Supporting characters disappear too quickly from view, trampled by the lurid sequences that set up the infamous denouement. (It’s not a sin to be lurid, but it is a sin to devote time to story lines only to drop them, and sadder still, make the screen time allotted to the lurid angle muddled and redundant.)

The first half paints the psychoanalytical landscape for us. Twentysomething Theresa suffers Catholic guilt and the remembered anguish of childhood scoliosis. She lives at home with parents (Richard Kiley, Priscilla Pointer) who seems more tuned in to the needs and successes of Theresa’s older sisters, Brigid (Laurie Prange) and Katherine (Tuesday Weld). Martin (Alan Feinstein of “The Edge of Night”), the married professor with whom Theresa has been having an affair, has broken it off brusquely. Her self-esteem tank is near-empty, so that even while she takes important positive steps like moving to her own apartment and nailing down a rewarding day job as a teacher to deaf first-graders, she elects to spend her nights in a soulless prowl of the singles-bar scene. The no-strings dynamic makes Theresa well up with spurious assertiveness, and affirmation given to her in the bedroom Band-Aids deeper wounds.

Sister Katherine has already blazed the trail of sexual—and chemical—liberality. She marries her much-older husband after only hours of acquaintance, and when Theresa uses their apartment as a waystation on her foray into independence, she’s an awed witness to wall-projected porn and a drug-addled foursome. (When Katherine dismantles that apartment in favor of another, she offloads on her sister an X-rated chandelier/mobile, which ends up on conspicuous display in Theresa’s new pad.)

Up until the one-hour mark, we only see Theresa casing the neon-washed neighborhoods. Finally we are admitted to one of her pick-up joints and can see, for example, Tony Lo Porto (Richard Gere). Their initial exchange is a mischievous nod to Keaton’s resumé —Theresa is plainly reading a copy of “The Godfather,” and Tony declares, “I’ve seen the movie; Al Pacino is something.” Theresa murmurs in agreement. Tony goes on to become a repeat liaison for her, and he straddles the line between macho posturing and true volatility. Gere has some ridiculous dialogue, but it’s no sillier than lots of Keaton’s, and he’s eminently watchable. The following year he would parlay this, his first significant speaking part, into lead roles in Robert Mulligan’s BLOODBROTHERS and Terrence Malick’s DAYS OF HEAVEN.

The alter ego to Tony is James (William Atherton), a social worker whom Theresa meets in the course of her day job. James is the one Theresa takes home to meet the family. He exudes a veneer of professional and personal stability that sets the Dunn crowd at ease, but tete a tete with Theresa he becomes a little too...well...intense for her comfort. Atherton, by this time, was a known quantity from THE HINDENBERG and THE DAY OF THE LOCUST, and he went on to do memorable turns as Walter Peck in GHOSTBUSTERS and Thornburg in the DIE HARD Series. He gives James a mostly white-bread aroma with just a whiff of "creepy" so that we’re flummoxed trying to choose the lesser of two evils for Theresa.

The Academy understandably focused on Keaton’s work in ANNIE HALL in a year when both that lead performance and this one were eligible. (Keaton was in the running for a drama-category Golden Globe for GOODBAR.) GOODBAR’s main attention from Oscar came in the form of nominations for William A. Fraker’s cinematography (his first of five over the next nine years) and for Tuesday Weld’s supporting performance. Both are certainly striking elements. I think the film is too dark visually—why on earth would Theresa spend so much time in such a claustrophobic and shadow-infested apartment?—but the Fraker's aesthetic here is noteworthy for the intriguing technique by which it intersperses montages of still photographs with the live action. Weld gets the one character who moves toward reform, but as soon as her Katherine jettisons her swinger past, she’s reduced to generic twitters of alarm over the revolving door at Theresa’s place. To my mind, Weld’s Oscar nomination should have come the following year, for the role of Marge Converse in the criminally overlooked WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN. In that film, Weld tackles a similarly high-strung character with pitch-perfect flair, and the material is superior to GOODBAR in every respect. (Whom would I have bumped in 1978? Sorry, Dyan Cannon.)

Besides giving us our first real glimpse of Richard Gere, GOODBAR also helps two other name actors make a leap to the big screen: LeVar Burton from “Roots” and Tom Berenger from “One Life to Live.” Burton plays the big brother to Theresa's most heart-tugging deaf pupil, but, again, it’s a thread that’s unceremoniously dropped in the melee that is the last act. Berenger’s role can’t be discussed without spoilage, but I wonder how he feels about his debut being an amorous same-sex liplock at a gay bar? The film is not camp; I would class it more as a curio, a slice of 1970s mores, a souvenir of the work of some established talents, and an introduction to some future leading men. The ending retains plenty of shock value even while having an air of inevitability about it…the suspense audience lies chiefly in the agonizing wait for the the details. That’s exactly what a high-impact ending needs. The whole package is untidy and unholy, but going in you know you’re not going to get CHARIOTS OF FIRE, don’t you? As I said, it’s a cautionary tale about sex, and it gives ultimate expression to its southward spiral. Give it a whirl and see what you think.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=7734&reviewer=395
originally posted: 07/10/06 11:53:39
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User Comments

8/17/13 PAUL SHORTT SORDID, BORING SEX MELODRAMA, DESPITE A GOOD STAR PERFORMANCE 1 stars
12/28/10 Johnny Keaton is GREAT!!!!! Helped her Oscar win for Annie Hall. Also GREAT!! 5 stars
3/22/10 art THIS was the last movie i saw at DETROITS EAST SIDE DRIVE-IN,A WONDERFUL FILM! 5 stars
11/18/09 art LOOKING FOR MR.GOOD BAR should have gotten an oscar for diane,not that PATHETIC ANNIE HALL! 5 stars
7/03/09 Josie Cotton is a goddess Yet another classic not on DVD 4 stars
5/13/09 art WONDERFUL!,KEATON should have won an oscar for this, and not for THAT TERRIBLE ANNIE HALL! 4 stars
1/13/09 KK I love this movie. It's hard, but very smart and well-done 5 stars
7/19/06 David Cohen Must have been something in its day 2 stars
11/25/03 R.W. Welch Downbeat account of woman adrift unfortuantely has little flair. 3 stars
5/30/03 Jack Sommersby Wildly uneven and unfocused. A film more of ideas than sound dramatics. 2 stars
5/26/03 Charles Tatum Sleazy trash was better when I was 10 years old and really impressed with boobies 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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  07-Jan-1977 (R)

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