This past year I’ve been an active patron of my local public library’s DVD holdings, and I’ve (re)discovered some really excellent movies. And since I’m decades behind the conversations about them, I’m just sharing them here. In chronological order.
The Goodbye Girl 1977
I saw this movie in high school and then I forgot about it, and now it’s in my top 5 romantic comedies. It’s Neil Simon, it’s witty banter, and it’s just completely charming. The premise is that a jackass named Tony moves to LA and sublets his apartment to an off-off-Broadway actor (Richard Dreyfuss) and abandons his needy single mother girlfriend Paula (Marsha Mason’s character) and her adorable daughter Lucy (played by Quinn Cummings).
They end up coexisting and then [spoiler alert] fall in love. Dreyfuss is completely obnoxious, but manages to be charming. He’s that theater ham who makes you smile when you’re rolling your eyes at him.
Mason is just this destroyed woman who has been railroaded by all the men in her life. You get the sense that this won’t last forever, but at least there’s commitment and communication, so it’s an improvement on Tony at least.
It’s a solid romantic comedy, and it earned Dreyfuss an Oscar! Win win.
Coming Home 1978
I already shared some of my thoughts about Vietnam movies here, but Coming Home takes the cake. It’s a little cliche, but I give it a pass because it was (probably) one of the first films to portray the way the war radicalized people at home against it.
I think one of my favorite parts was how more egalitarian understanding of gender roles accompanied anti-war radicalization (which unfortunately was not always the case historically). We see Fonda’s relationship with her husband Bruce Dern
contrasted with her relationship with her lover Jon Voight, where they have more mutual respect and the sexual pleasure is all hers. I’ve been wrestling with why their love story is so effective for me, and I think it’s the way their sex scene completely flips the usual gender dynamic. Because of his injury, it’s all about her pleasure, and that’s appealing/refreshing to see. [Once I finally learn how to make a gif, that’s happening]
The movie is best viewed as metaphor; the characters are archetypes of [white] America and we watch as the war shatters their previous faith in the goodness of American institutions. If you’ve never seen it, you have to watch Jon Voight’s character’s speech to the local high school about his experience in Vietnam. [It’s important here to distinguish between Voight and his character because JV has amended his former anti-war positions.]
The Big Chill 1983
**It’s important to listen to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by The Temptations when you read this part of the post**
Friend of the blog Caroline recently pointed me towards this gem. It’s essentially a bottle episode(? narrative?) of 7 baby boomer college friends who reunite for their friend’s funeral. It helped launch the careers of Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, and Jeff Goldblum (I think William Hurt was already famous), and it provided a snapshot of where the college radicals of the late 1960s ended up in the early 80s.
Mary Kay Place’s character was an idealistic defense attorney intent on fighting the corrupt criminal justice system until she started to see her clients as scum and switched to corporate law.
Jeff Goldblum’s character was going to teach “ghetto kids” [yikes] in Harlem but ended up working at People magazine and dreaming of opening up a club.
The film is character-driven, and manages to get at the conflicts and contradictions of the revolutionary baby boomers settling down and compromising their principles in a non-obnoxious way, perhaps because it doesn’t hold them up on a pedestal. They wonder if anything they did mattered, and they’re surprised with how much money they have and how much they like it.
The eight leads (including the deceased’s girlfriend Chloe, played by Meg Tilly) rehearsed for 4 weeks leading up to production, and spent a great deal of time socializing together while shooting since they were isolated from friends and family, which leant authenticity to their friendships. Their physical and emotional comfortability with each other is apparent from a thousand banal interactions they have all weekend.
Indeed, The Big Chill is conveyed through body language and facial expressions as much as it is through dialogue. It’s really a paragon of show, not tell.
I think another really important part of what makes this work is the timelessness of the gradual feeling of estrangement from once-close friends. College provides a physical and emotional closeness among friends (especially the commune-living these characters participated in) that can be difficult to sustain across physical distance. Pile on top of that the way you change as you move through adulthood and you can get a room full of people who are somewhat strangers to each other, who may not be friends if they just met today, but because of a shared history are inexplicably tied.
Stay tuned for more of my old-movie musings. Next up just might be this: