Nether Regions 01.12.10: Looking for Mr. Goodbar
Posted by Chad Webb on 01.12.2010
Warning! Richard Gere doing pushups without pants might be hazardous to your health. Proceed with caution...
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar
Starring: Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, and Tom Berenger Directed By: Richard Brooks Written By: Richard Brooks Theatrical Release Date: October 19, 1977 Missing Since: 1997 Existing Formats: VHS only Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Only available through Amazon used sellers, and it ain't cheap
Looking for Mr. Goodbar follows a woman who says she never cries and doesn't believe in the future. She also hates cooking, sports, jokes, marriage, and wants no kids. This is our main character, Theresa Dunn. Hop in. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
She's supposed to be searching for the "perfect man" as the title suggests, but if she loathes all the above items, the title makes little sense. The story is based on the novel by Judith Rossner, published in 1975, which in turn was based on the actual murder of schoolteacher Roseanne Quinn in 1973. The film version was made in 1977. During this decade, when the unfortunate tale was still relevant, and when women's liberation was still unraveling, the point of Looking for Mr. Goodbar might have been clearer. Over 30 years later however, it is an unfocused, frustrating, and unpleasant experience with no trajectory.
Theresa (Diane Keaton) was raised by a strict Catholic family, and suffered from scoliosis of the spine when she was very young. Her back was so crooked she had to stay in a body cast for a full year. She has an enormous scar due to the surgery. In college, Theresa works as the assistant of a married professor named Martin (Alan Feinstein of The Edge of Night), whom she is also having an affair with. He treats her like dirt, and eventually grows tired of his fun with her. Theresa soon moves to New York City and obtains a job teaching deaf children. By day, she is a good-natured and intelligent instructor, but by night she hangs out in bars drinking, picking up random men, and doing drugs. Her lifestyle choice obviously brings a multitude of risks, but that does not stop Theresa from doing what she wants. The rest of my article will allude to the ending, so if you really want to avoid spoilers, this is your warning, but if you've read the premise, it will not shock you.
Beware of any guy that suddenly performs pushups in a jockstrap.
For a film that clocks in at 137 minutes, my plot summary might seem brief, but most of that time consists of Theresa teaching deaf kids and having sex. The movie is about Theresa, but as the events unfold one wonders what Writer/Director Richard Brooks is driving at. What is the goal here? There is never a definitive answer. Theresa makes decisions that are so stupid that her fate comes as no surprise to anyone. Was the real woman this foolish? I cannot say, but I must judge the film, not the real life situation. Take for instance the smooth operator Tony, played with exuberance by Richard Gere. After doing pushups in his jock strap so viewers get a full glimpse at his rear end, he pulls out a switch blade, holds it incredibly close to Theresa on many occasions, and waves it around the room wildly. Theresa has a startled expression on her face, but has sex with him anyway. I forgot to mention that Tony enters her apartment at his own will by picking the lock. She realizes late in the story that using the chain helps in these circumstances.
She purchases a dime bag of cocaine on her own, but it is Tony who aids her with the crucial first high. She buys her drugs from a man named Jesus, who lurks in a bar/club called "The Hangout." At the same time, Theresa is being followed by a welfare agent names James, perplexingly depicted by William Atherton, better known as Peck from Ghostbusters. He was originally going to be a priest, but he seems like an easygoing chap who genuinely likes Theresa's company. He does nice things for her, but she resists because I suppose he is too likable and somewhat dorky. He also seems hesitant to kiss her or attempt to engage in intercourse. The character of James takes a shift in attitude so alarming midway through Looking for Mr. Goodbar that I still haven't grasped what his intentions were.
Meanwhile, Theresa must contend with two sisters, Brigid (Laurie Prange) and Katherine (Tuesday Weld). Apparently Katherine also plows through men like they are going out of style. One night Theresa stays with Katherine and her husband at the time. Along with many other odd couples, they smoke pot and watch homemade porno flicks. Sure. Katherine seems to be pregnant throughout the entire film, and continually talks of having an abortion, which may or may not have occurred. Later in the movie, during New Year's Eve, Katherine has a new boyfriend, whom Theresa has never met. He knocks on her door wearing a mugger costume (on New Year's Eve?) and proceeds to accost her using a fake knife. It's a joke of course because Katherine enters and informs her of who he is, but then again I thought Theresa hated jokes. Exasperated? Join the club. Call me crazy, but I would not be too happy if my sister allowed a man I had never met to fake stab me wearing a mugger's costume. Every family is different I suppose.
Then there are the fantasy sequences interwoven throughout the film. They appear in varying tones, and we're never expecting them. Some of them are intended to be over the top and ridiculous, such as when Theresa imagines herself as a champion figure skater. Others are undeniably meant to fool the audience. The best example of this is when police storm her apartment looking for drugs. They find them, arrest her, and it makes the news. Cops breaking down her door did not seem so out of place at that juncture. Tony had just threatened her with some sort of payback, and immediately the police are seen entering her place. Another example has her stepping out into traffic getting hit by a car, and yet another has her father dying after he was legitimately in the hospital. They are inconsistent and sloppily integrated. Imagine having a conversation with someone who constantly ended statements with "Not!" "I will be at your party this weekend....Not!" "I will pay for the bill...Not!" You get the idea, but this is the feeling one has the whole time, and it gets old.
If Looking for Mr. Goodbar is about how Theresa is a nymphomaniac with a bad case of sexual addiction, then mission failed because she comes off like a whorish female that we are supposed to sympathize with because she teaches deaf kids. How else to react to a person when the film delivers a short montage of Theresa's embarrassing sexual exploits? She is taken to a motel by a lover of adult films that leaves her $20 while she showers post-coitus, and is "taken for a sucker" as she puts it when she goes to the same motel with a detective some other night. As she explains this, the audience is not sure who she is talking to, but it is then revealed to be another new man, some married middle-aged schlub with a beer gut. The above series of encounters is also evidence of the poor editing from George Grenville. It is confusing to the nth degree at times. Take for instance when Theresa has a nasty fight with James, leaves her apartment, but then the next shot is of her walking downstairs from her parents' house.
The unfriendly exchange with James happens after he gives her a gift. It is a strobe light, which seems like an odd present, but once the conclusion arrives, this obligatory scene makes perfect sense. It gives Richard Brooks the opportunity to be artsy for artsy sake. That little strobe light is one of the many examples of how intensely dated Looking for Mr. Goodbar is. Everything about this film says 70's, and I mean EVERYTHING, such as the hairstyles, the fashion trends, and especially the soundtrack. That brings me to why the film has yet to be released on DVD. There is no composer to speak of, but so many bizarre and generic pieces of 70's music are used, not to mention many recognizable hits from that era including tracks by Donna Summer, The Commodores, Boz Scaggs, and Diana Ross. It is because of the rights to these songs that delays the release. The Wonder Years has the same problem.
Theresa having one of her many beverages.
Diane Keaton's performance as Theresa landed the same year she won an Oscar for her performance in Woody Allen's superb Annie Hall. All else aside, Keaton plays Theresa exactly as it was written. It is a stirring turn filled with authenticity. What tarnishes her effort overall is that the character is supremely unlikable. Perhaps that was the point in some ways, but besides being mean and cold, we are disconnected from Theresa. There is never a bond with her because we are not sure what her deal is. We watch her make mistake after mistake, and instead of rooting for her, or hoping she will change, we are merely waiting for her to suffer the consequences. Keaton certainly immersed herself into this Catholic guilt-ridden woman's body, but Theresa remains an enigma until the very last frame, and when so few mysteries about her personality are revealed, it's tough for viewers to be properly absorbed.
Tuesday Weld received an Oscar nomination for her contribution as Katherine, but I'm not sure she warranted one. If Keaton was grounded as Theresa, Weld is extremely melodramatic as Katherine. This is fine, but the two do not mesh well. Some of Weld's scenes are intriguing, but she travels in and out of Theresa's universe so quickly and chaotically that by the time we start caring about her, she disappears. This cycle continues, and like everyone else in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Katherine is hard to gauge. If any supporting performance deserved more acknowledgment, it was William Atherton as James. His delivery is laced with conviction and energy, but when the screenplay alters his character, our attachment to him flies off the deep end. Richard Kiley is outlandish and overbearing as Mr. Dunn, Theresa's father. His endless tirades are grating.
Tom Berenger has a small role in the final act of the story. His insertion is ridiculous because the action veers away from Theresa to his character Gary's homosexual troubles. Once we see how unstable Gary is, the outcome is obvious, and ultimately unfulfilling, much like Theresa herself. Gary is one of many who gets Theresa naked, and inevitably comments on the huge scar located on her lower back. This is from her back surgery, an aspect that is basically derivative and inane. Are the back issues supposed to explain all of her behavior? Who knows and who cares.
Filmmaker Richard Brooks etched a career which spanned five decades. His adaptation of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood was brilliant, but other worthwhile offerings of his include The Professionals, Elmer Gantry, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He commonly dealt with novels, as he does here. He is a skilled director, and a fine screenwriter, but with Looking for Mr. Goodbar he bit off more than he could chew. The lurid angle is puzzling and blurry, while the supporting characters and sub-plots are just dropped like yesterday's garbage. William A. Fraker garnered the only other Oscar nomination for his cinematography, which is striking at times, but the picture is too dark most of the time. I questioned how Theresa could exist at all in such a dreary, claustrophobic, and cockroach infested environment. The quality of the VHS tape I had might have something to do with the darkness, but it can't be the only reason.
One thing is for sure. Looking for Mr. Goodbar paved the way for many of its stars on the big screen like Richard Gere, who would go on to star in Days of Heaven, Levar Burton, Tom Berenger, and William Atherton. Fortunately they would all go on to bigger and more importantly, better opportunities. Looking for Mr. Goodbar is a cautionary tale that was described as daring and provocative for its time. I say it had the potential to be both of those adjectives, but ended up missing the mark on both counts. It is an amorphous and dismal film with some interesting acting, but numerous flaws. Check it out if you're curious, but it's safe to say I won't be starting a petition for this one anytime soon.
And on a side note, Theresa's repeated wailings of "Sweet God!" during sex is one of the funniest and phoniest sounding orgasms this reviewer has ever heard.
This week I checked out three movies I definitely plan on buying. It Might Get Loud is a documentary all music lovers need to see. Watching three greats like Jack White, The Edge, and Jimmy Page converse and play together will cause their contributions to music to be viewed in a whole new light. World's Greatest Dad, a dark comedy directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, and starring Robin Williams, was much better than I ever could have expected. It is hilarious and even moving at times, and Williams gives one of his best performances. Lastly, there was Anvil: The Story of Anvil, the acclaimed documentary I caught too late. It is fascinating, plus, if you like Metallica and Slayer, the music is awesome. I have already purchased one of Anvil's CDs on iTunes.
If you haven't clicked on my recent "Editor's Note" articles, you are missing out. They are:
By the way, for updates on all the movies I am seeing that I have not written full reviews of, you can consult my blog, which should soon be lighting 411 on fire with hits. View it by clicking here. I plan on adding other random thoughts on CDs, plays, and other topics that float into my head as well.
-Thanks to Jeremy Thomas for my banner.
"The plural of Chad is Chad?"
--From the movie Recount