Sunday, March 24, 2013


“The fault is not with Herbert Ross…, who gets wonderful performances from his leads…. Marsha Mason, radiant with a homey sensuality, delivers each one-liner as if it were something a frowsily distracted Mom might actually say….

“As the ex-dancer who gave it all up for love, Mason (the real-life Mrs. Simon) is forever saying good-bye to her own sunshine boys… She is, in effect, the soulful, Earth Mother doormat of the kind played with freckled charm by Shirley MacLaine in the fifties. Then women could legitimately surrender independence on the altar of matrimony, with a statistically--if not spiritually--higher chance of success. But in the seventies there is something wrong with the picture. Why isn't this woman, with a school age child to raise, working?”

-- Molly Haskell, New York, December 12, 1977

“At first, Marsha Mason's Paula McFadden appears just as fascinating [as Dreyfuss's Elliot.] An aging hoofer who's been loved and lift by a succession of handsome actors, she's developed a set of defenses that would defeat a storm trooper -- though trouper Dreyfuss finally manages to break through. Mason, Neil Simon's wife, is an exceptionally warm, vulnerable, naturalistic performer who can bring tears to your eyes almost at will. But Simon has misconceived her character. To be appealing enough to match Dreyfuss's Garfield, Paula should be witty and somewhat stoic, a plucky, graceful woman struggling to bear her growing hopelessness. Instead, she's a whiner who groans her way through dance classes and complains her way through pre-audition butterflies. "I hate that goddam it's-wonderful-to-be-alive feeling," she says. No wonder actors find her such dreary company.

“…. Simon's conservatism extends to his treatment of characters…. Mason's Paula is absurdly retrograde; she changes from a whiner before true love arrives to a bland little hausfrau afterwards, redecorating the living room while her man is bringing home the bacon. Although viewers may be warmed when her gloom lifts, many of them will find Paula just as pathetic as before. Why is she so docile? Has she decided that she's devoid of talent and must depend on a man for salvation? Whatever the answer, even half-hearted feminists may wind up feeling they've been had.

“Still, The Goodbye Girl is an extremely charming bad movie … It gets some of its tears by honorable means -- the long, sweet surrender of Mason to Dreyfuss, for instance -- and many of the comic situations sparkle….”

Stephen Schiff, Boston Phoenix, December 20, 1977

“Marsha Mason's face sets the tone of this comedy. In the heyday of magazines like Collier's, the illustration for the stories always had girls with snub noses. And they were snub-nosed stories, very pert and up-to-the-then-date. Mason has the same general type of face but more human--Jane Wyman with gonads. She's a very pleasant light comedian, and this script that her husband, Neil Simon, wrote for her fits her like a leotard….

“Some talents keep the fluff floating. First to the eye, Mason and Dreyfuss. They have the energy and precision of circus sharpshooters, knocking off the points and the quick emotions like bottles thrown in the air, never missing, firing over their shoulders, wheeling and smacking. Nothing is real, nothing is phony.

“…. [Simon] invents an absolutely incredible character hangup for his heroine--something about the courage to say goodbye in order to say hello again, and if I've got it wrong it doesn't matter--but it's only an attempt to paste some disguise of depth on one more boy-meets-girl polka.

“And of course there's the false realism. People simply don't speak incessantly in smart dialogue…. [O]ften in Simon's plays and films I find myself thinking, "Say, the folks who live in that apartment have pretty good scriptwriters."

“But if you accept the conventions, it glistens. If, mutatis mutandis, The Goodbye Girl had been made in the 1930s, it would now be revived as what art houses like to call a Comedy Classic.”

Stanley Kauffmann, New Republic, December 17, 1977

“…. Perhaps because he was drafting a valentine to his lady love, Simon's writing is more benign here than it has been in years . . . . [But] Ross's eye and Simon's ear seem out of sync with New York. The aggravation jokes are hit so hard that they cease to amuse, and the characters' desperate lack of money is treated in a cavalier fashion that was possible only in the midst of the Great Depression. I can't help feeling that Marsha Mason was more effective in Mazursky's Blume in Love, but she has come a long way from the sobbing disaster of Audrey Rose. She and Dreyfuss do not actually light up the screen together but they manage to generate enough warmth for the needs of movie romance. The surprising modesty of this enterprise conveys its own charm.”

Andrew Sarris, Village Voice, December ?, 1977
[see also Sarris's comments on Mason in his review of An Unmarried Woman]

“…. And we can't see what Elliot is doing in a devoted, courting situation with Paula, who, when she isn't being abrasive, is soggy and whimpering. Neil Simon and Herbert Ross want us to feel Paula's need for love and her terror of being hurt again, but Simon doesn't develop her character--he simply stretches the material with gags. Practically everything to do with Paula seems to be a mere device.... And Simon's idea of depth is to tug at your heartstrings. Marsha Mason's chin keeps quivering. Her face is either squinched up to cry or crinkled up to laugh; this may be the bravest, teariest, most crumpled-face performance since the days of Janet Gaynor. No wonder those actors walked out on Paula: she's a domestic leech, with House Beautiful aspirations. She suffers and she decorates. And her precocious child--Cupid talking dirty for a laugh--is a baby harpy. Marsha Mason created a soft, giggly, compliant character in just a few scenes in her first picture, Paul Mazursky's Blume in Love: her Arlene, the woman who had an affair with the recently divorced Blume, was likably funny, because she couldn't understand her own messy feelings. But Mason hasn't found her footing in other movies; Herbert Ross overworks her teeth and eyes and charm and pathos, as Mark Rydell did in Cindarella Liberty. We're so obviously meant to find her "human" she becomes a charity case.

“Paula, busy picking out white furniture, would be a menace to a serious young actor; this woman loves artists and wants them to function like suburban daddies.... We don't know why [Elliot] loves her until after he wins her, when he says that he fell for her right from the start, as soon as he saw her little snub nose. Of course. That's the shiksa's secret weapon--she wins by a nose….”

Pauline Kael, New Yorker, January 23 ?, 1978
When the Lights Go Down, pp.