Film Scouts Reviews

"Goodbye, Lover"

by Cari Beauchamp

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Talk about a change in direction --- after The Killing Fields and The Mission, Roland Joffe's latest, Goodbye Lover, is a thriller slash dark comedy that is too clever by half. And that cleverness, which keeps you in your seat in spite of the urge to leave before you are thrown another curve, makes the film a challenge to write about without giving away the plot away.

Goodbye Lover is presented in the Official Selection, but out of Competition, along with half a dozen other films including Primary Colors and Godzilla. Studios want to give their films the international media exposure of Cannes without being compared with an eclectic combination of epics and small art films -- the Festival appreciates the studio films' ability to draw the stars and so the system of out of competition films works well for everyone. To a point.

Goodbye Lover stars Patricia Arquette as a woman with no core, programed for direction and self worth by a combination of Tony Roberts audio tapes, Martha Stewart's television programs and the sound track from The Sound of Music. She's sleeping with Don Johnson who turns out to be the brother of her husband, played by Dermot Mulroney, who in turn is making a play for the apparently naive innocent, Mary Louis Parker. And that's all established in the first 5 minutes.

But this no mere Cain and Abel update -- it twists, it turns, it zips, it zags. This might have been pulled off, but it isn't the amorality that is offensive, it is the superficiality. We are constantly being hit over the head with the obvious. The first time Arquette mounts Don Johnson while he is playing the organ-- yes the organ -- she slips in a CD and whispers meaningfully "It's Bach....your favorite." Well for christ sakes, if it's his favorite, then he knows it's Bach. Some of the rest of us do too, but that is only the beginning of dozens of such instances where the audience is vicariously asked "Get it?" Yes -- we get it. You can almost hear the writers (Ron Peer, Joel Cohen and Alec Daniel are credited) congratulating themselves on their scintillating imaginations. Shut up and show me the story.

We are bombarded with ever present images reflecting the action such as when the camera pauses forever on a Cindy Crawford Revlon ad with the copy reading "Skating on thin ice" and "Play with Fire" as Arquette is in motion in yet another daring move. We get it - we get it. The PR firm where Johnson is the responsible executive and Mulroney the irresponsible one is called "Iconage." Their motto is "Image is Everything." Etc. etc. etc. This might not be so offensive if the audience was drawn in by at least one of the characters in the first half of the film, but they remain unsympathetic. The fact they clearly have secrets about to be revealed might be intriguing, but it doesn't involve.

The surprise scene stealer is Ellen DeGeneres in the Whoopi Goldberg/police detective role. She's a total hoot and the only one who appears to be having a genuinely good time.

There are some wonderful moments of Patricia Arquette, asking the musical question, along with Julie Andrews, "how do you solve a problem like Maria?" and Mary Louise Parker basking in the joy of watching Mildred Pierce, but the emphasis on structure and art direction is so heavy that when the stars do succeed in shining, it is in spite of, rather than because of.

We were asked not to give away which characters succumb en route and I wouldn't dream of doing so. But I don't think it's violating any promise to tell you that Goodbye Lover does have a happy ending -- the two survivors end up shopping at Gucci.

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