Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Theresa is a successful teacher of deaf children during the day but after a short unhappy affair starts to spend her nights cruising bars. Her craving first for sex but later also for drugs leads into increasingly demeaning and dangerous situations at odds with her daytime commitment to her children.

  • Theresa is the daughter of a very rigid catholic father, and has a serious trauma with a scoliosis she had due to a congenital problem. As a teenager, she suffered a lot to heal the scoliosis, being immobilized for a year after many surgeries. When she graduates as a teacher for deaf people, she decides to get free from her father and to live alone in a rented apartment. She finds a job in a specialized school, where she is a lovely and affectionate teacher with her kids during the day. At night, she searches for sexual freedom cruising bars, having sex with the most different men, having a promiscuous and experimental life. James, is the only distinct man she meets and she despises him. Her promiscuous life finishes in a very tragic way.

  • As she embarks on her career as a grade 1 teacher of hearing impaired children, Theresa Dunn is affected by several aspects of life, hers specifically as well as of the times: her repressed Catholic upbringing; having body image issues from a scar on her lower back from surgery dealing with the scoliosis resulting from a case of polio as a child; coming out of an affair with who was her married college English professor, the self-absorbed Martin Engels, the relationship which at the time she believed was love and which ended on his initiative; and the liberation and narcissism of the times evident in urban nightlife. The Catholicism affected her and her two sisters in different ways, with Brigid being the poster child, and Katherine openly rebelling against it through several marriages - all of them open - drug use, and abortions. To get out from the repression, Theresa decides to move out on her own, living in one of the empty units in an apartment building owned by Katherine's current husband, Barney. While she is caring and compassionate in her professional life, Theresa begins to be reckless in her personal life, prowling the singles bars at night looking for sexual validation, which is easy to find in the many one-night stands she has. Among those sexual encounters, she begins a casual relationship of sorts with Tony Leponto, a hyperactive, volatile and thus somewhat unpredictable young man who usually just shows up whenever he has no one else. Their encounters become increasingly edgy bordering on violent, which nonetheless piques her sexual interest. She also begins a casual non-sexual relationship of sorts with James, the welfare case worker of one of her student's family. James, a Catholic himself, is the one she can and does bring home to her parents to maintain the façade of being the good Catholic. Through it all, Theresa has to deal with the consequences of the lifestyle she has chosen for herself.

  • A dedicated schoolteacher spends her nights cruising bars, looking for abusive men with whom she can engage in progressively violent sexual encounters.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • In a college classroom, graduate student Theresa Dunn (Diane Keaton) fantasizes about her professor, Martin Engle (Alan Feinstein), as he reads her essay aloud. Later, Theresa works as Martin's assistant and relates being stricken with polio at age six, and having surgery to straighten her spine at age eleven, which left her scarred and prone to back pain. He offers her comfort, but she says she would rather be seduced. Martin, who is married, responds that sex between a teacher and a student is immoral, illegal, and tempting. They then make love in his office.

    Theresa goes home where it's revealed that lives in the suburbs with her Catholic family. Her divorced sister, Katherine (Tuesday Weld), a flight attendant, returns home on a layover and confides to Theresa that she has been living with two men, one in Chicago, Illinois, and one in New York City. She is pregnant, unsure of which is the father, and she on her way to Puerto Rico for an abortion.

    That night, Theresa attends a class preparing her to teach deaf children. Afterward, she fantasizes about winning a figure skating medal and being congratulated by Martin. The following day, Martin mocks the sentimentality of the Christmas gift she offers him and tells her he will see her after the holidays. Home alone on New Year's Eve, Theresa receives a phone call from Katherine, who has married a man she has known for two days.

    Later, Theresa calls Martin and hangs up when his wife answers. After the holidays, Martin berates Theresa for calling his home, and she responds by seducing him. Sometime later, Katherine introduces new husband, Barney (Joel Fabiani), to the family. During the conversation, Theresa gets a phone call from Martin and she leaves to meet him. After they make love, she asks why they never talk or touch and he tells her he cannot stand being with a woman after sex.

    In the morning, Theresa's younger sister, Brigid (Laurie Prange), who lives with her husband in the same neighborhood as their parents, announces she is pregnant with her second child. When Mr. Dunn (Richard Kiley) relates that his mother had four boys, all perfect, Theresa corrects him reminding him of a sister, Maureen, who died, and Mr. Dunn leaves, angry.

    In the last session of her teaching class, Theresa is affected by the news that two of her classmates were married that afternoon. As the other students congratulate the newlyweds, Theresa quietly slips away. Later, Theresa helps Martin pack his office for the summer break and he ends their relationship. Outside, she fantasizes about stepping in front of his car and winding up in the hospital.

    That night, after visiting a bar, she drops by Katherine's apartment, smokes marijuana, and watches a pornographic film with her sister, her brother-in-law, Barney, and another couple. In the morning, she awakens and is surprised to find the other four sharing a bed. Theresa returns home, where her father is angry that she did not come home the previous night. She packs her bag and moves into an apartment downstairs from Katherine and Barney.

    The following week, Theresa begins her new job teaching deaf children. In the evenings, Theresa goes to singles' bars and strip clubs, where she reads and drinks. One night, a young hustler named Tony (Richard Gere) attempts to take her home, but she is slow to respond and he leaves with another woman.

    On the last day of summer school, Theresa asks a student's brother, Cap Jackson (LeVar Burton), if she can spend the afternoon with the girl. Later, Theresa takes the girl home and encourages the girl's mother, Mrs. Jackson (Marilyn Coleman), to purchase a hearing aid for her daughter. Mrs. Jackson is on the verge of losing her welfare check and Theresa attempts to intervene with the case officer, James (William Atherton). When school starts again after Labor Day, Mrs. Jackson's daughter returns with a hearing aid, courtesy of James, the welfare officer, and he and Theresa begin dating. Theresa's family loves the fact that James is a Catholic, who lives with his widowed mother and once studied for the priesthood.

    Another night later, Theresa encounters Tony again at the bar. After they have sex in her apartment, she asks him to leave and he promises to return Sunday at 6:00 p.m. On Sunday, Theresa cooks for Tony, but he does not show. When James phones, Theresa meets him at a discotheque, where a drug dealer follows her into the restroom and she unwittingly buys $10 worth of cocaine. James walks her home and asks her to dinner the following Saturday.

    Back in her apartment, Theresa is furious to find Tony and asks him to leave, but Tony finds the cocaine and they use it while having sex. Tony gives her a Quaalude and tells her he will be in touch. In the morning, Theresa is late for school and the children are unforgiving.

    Later, she arrives at a hospital where her father is apparently near death with a malignant tumor. The family priest, Father Timothy, congratulates her on the new man in her life, referring to James, who arrives and offers Mrs. Dunn a ride home.

    A few days later, at her apartment, Theresa is angry with James for insinuating himself into her family. She taunts him and he responds by telling her he will take her to the hospital the following day. There, Theresa imagines her father's death, but listens as the man tells Katherine on the phone that he is well.

    Theresa returns to the bar looking for Tony and runs into Martin, who has quit teaching, is getting divorced, and is writing a novel.

    The next day, James visits Theresa at school and she cannot understand why he is still interested. Later, they meet at Theresa's apartment for dinner. James claims that he does not know if his father is actually dead, then relates that his father walked out on the family after abusing James's mother. Theresa seduces him, but bursts out laughing when he attempts to use a condom. James confesses he made up the story about his parents and leaves. Theresa goes to a bar and buys drugs.

    Time passes and Theresa regales a new man, named Chuck (Tony Hawkins), with tales of her past sexual encounters. Chuck takes her to a men's gay bar and they return to Theresa's apartment, but while Theresa is in the bathroom, Tony arrives and chases Chuck away. He tells Theresa that he has been in Miami, Florida, and needs a place to stay because his welfare has been cut off. She tries to throw him out and they slap each other, but Tony leaves when Katherine comes downstairs to check on her sister.

    At school, Tony attempts to extort money from Theresa, but Cap, Mrs. Jackson's son, intercedes. That night, Theresa gets a threatening phone call from Tony and fantasizes about the police raiding her apartment, causing her to lose her job and have her double-life exposed. She throws away her drugs and finds James sitting in his car outside her apartment. It is Christmas Eve and he tells her he is in love with her, but she is not interested and leaves.

    At her parents' house, she has a confrontation with her father. He asks how she can give life to the deaf children, but not want a family of her own. She tells him she is afraid of passing on scoliosis, which he insists was caused by polio; however, Theresa forces him to admit that it was congenital, the same ailment that afflicted his deceased sister, Maureen.

    On New Year's Eve, Theresa takes a bath and Tony attempts to break into her apartment. When Theresa calls the police, Tony threatens her again. After he leaves, she goes to the bar. Meanwhile, on the streets, a female impersonator, named Gary (Tom Berenger), violently breaks up with his male lover and heads to the bar, where he plays pinball and inhales alkyl nitrites (or poppers). When another man insinuates he is gay, Gary becomes angry and hurts him.

    Across the bar, Theresa sees James, but does not wish to talk to him. She approaches Gary and explains her predicament. James sees them together and leaves. When midnight strikes, Theresa and Gary kiss. She takes him to her apartment and learns he has twice been in prison. They become intimate, but Gary has difficulty performing. Theresa is understanding, but asks him to leave. He mistakenly believes she is insinuating that he is gay and becomes enraged, then attacks and strangles her to death. Gary flees from the apartment, leaving Theresa's dead body behind.

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