Film Reviews

Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)

As is happily typical with their programming, the New Beverly delivered unto me a long-awaited, yet previously unavailable, movie interest of mine: Looking for Mr. Goodbar. The 1977 not-on-DVD classic stars Diane Keaton and baby versions of Tom Berenger, Richard Gere, and LeVar Burton, and is based on the real-life 1973 murder of Roseann Quinn.

I’d first heard of the case when I was living in the same relative neighborhood of New York, albeit in a very different time (both chronologically and culturally). I walked past the building on a crime tour, though it was covered in scaffolding at the time and, perhaps creepiest of all, looked just the same as every other structure on the street. Unlike a famously spooky building, like the Dakota, Quinn’s building was fairly commonplace and unassuming. But I guess that’s the point–sure, it makes for a more appealing storyline to point the finger at her “dark” lifestyle, but in reality her killer likely could have taken anyone else’s life just as easily.

That’s not really the focus of this film though, which is what makes it so delightfully tawdry and trashy. In the film, Theresa (Diane Keaton) is a likable, good-girl school teacher by day, but by night she descends into an underworld of drinking, drugs, and one-night-stands. The film is a great time capsule in this aspect–the fact that Theresa’s living by herself, unmarried, is depicted as almost as shocking as her other nighttime pursuits.

As it is, it’s certainly filmed like a descent into madness, into darkness. Her one-room apartment becomes increasingly cavelike–I’m not sure we ever even see a window in there, even though she’s supposed to be on the first floor. The finale in particular is a really interesting piece of filmmaking, as the scene is cut into fragmented pieces interspersed with blackness. It’s a really effective technique that heightens the emotion, trauma, and fear of that moment.

There is one bizarre moment where Theresa–who is, again, played by Diane Keaton–is sitting at the bar reading Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. At first I thought this was just going to be a cheeky visual gag, but then Richard Gere walks up and starts talking to her about the movie–they even mention Al Pacino by name. So now we’ve progressed into some sort of dizzying, alternate universe timeline in which either Theresa is Diane or Diane was never Kay or they’re identical twins but nobody ever noticed? I’m not sure which is the most likely solution, but this was such a funny choice to make that I’ll allow it.

Overall, Looking for Mr. Goodbar is a fun piece of grungy ’70s filmmaking, though a bit of a downer in the end. It’s perhaps a bit more palatable looking back from the comfortable seat in the future–where things might not be perfect for a single girl in the city, but at least she can live alone without drawing too much ire.

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