Sunday, May 5, 2024

Looking for Mr Goodbar (1977)

Looking for Mr Goodbar was mildly controversial at the time of its release in 1977. It’s certainly sleazy enough and violent enough to make its X certificate understandable.

It was written and directed by Richard Brooks, based on Judith Rossner’s novel. Brooks has taken a fascinating story idea (a woman drawn by masochistic impulses into dangerous sexual games) and turned it into a meandering over-long utterly conventional morality play. The message of the movie is that bad girls get what they deserve. A bad girl being a woman who dares to flout the established conventional moral rules.

Diane Keaton plays Theresa. She teaches deaf children. On the surface she is a paragon of virtue but she lives a double life, cruising sleazy bars and picking up loser men.

This fascination with casual sex begins when she’s still in college and she has an affair with a married professor. He unceremoniously dumps her after he’s had his fun so she decides to devote herself to the pursuit of pleasure.

Of course it’s all her father’s fault. He’s a devout Catholic. He thinks his daughter is a whore and the spawn of Satan.

There’s an entirely pointless sub-plot involving Theresa’s crazy sister Katherine (played by Tuesday Weld chewing every piece of scenery she can get her hands on). In fact there are lots of pointless sub-plots. What might have been a tense 90 minute film becomes a bloated 136 minute mess.

Theresa gets involved with a social worker who annoys her by wanting a serious relationship. She also gets involved with a hyper-active nutter named Tony (played by Richard Gere chewing every piece of scenery he can get his hands on). Theresa becomes a hooker although she seems to be motivated more by an urge to revenge herself on Dead Old Dad than by money.

Theresa gets into some awkward situations but she just doesn’t learn.

According to this movie there was not a single decent sane human being in the United States in 1977. Every character in the movie is exaggerated to the point of parody.

There are intermittent brief fantasy sequences which are presumably intended to give us a glimpse inside Theresa’s mind. These sequences are an unnecessary distraction.

The acting on the whole veers between hysteria and extreme hysteria.

The one exception, and the movie’s one redeeming feature, is Diane Keaton. There’s nothing she can do about the weak script but she does manage to make Theresa reasonably believable. Theresa is confused and out of control and Keaton gets this across very effectively but she is also able to infuse the character with a certain degree of humour.

Generally speaking I despise the use of the term camp to describe movies but it’s about the only adequate way to describe this one. It’s camp in the truest sense - a movie that tries to take itself absurdly seriously but in fact cannot be taken the least bit seriously.

There’s also some half-baked Freudianism.

This movie manages to be incredibly heavy-handed and confused at the same time. The message seems to be that women should forget about sex and just settle down and get married and learn to be good girls. Otherwise very bad things will happen to them.

Looking for Mr Goodbar
has its good points. It is at least an attempt to deal with sexual subject matter openly and in a grown-up way even if it’s an attempt that mostly misfires. The ending is technically bold and striking.

And Diane Keaton’s performance is undeniably impressive.

Looking for Mr Goodbar is mostly a missed opportunity. It is fascinating in its own way and perhaps worth a look as an example of a 70s movie that really gets down and dirty.

This movie has a reputation for being difficult to track down. There was in fact a DVD release which is still obtainable. It’s letterboxed but as far as I’m concerned that’s OK. At least it’s not pan-and-scanned. And there are certain aspects of this movie that make it very doubtful that it will ever get a Blu-Ray release.

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