Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
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Neither traditionally beautiful like her stewardess sister, Katherine or a baby factory like her other sister living at home with her, Theresa is the odd one out, the sister who is searching for approval from a father who barely acknowledges her existence. Childhood traumas mold her and make the fact that Theresa allows herself to be strong and fallible all the more powerful and endearing.
Tired of her father's unyielding rule, Theresa moves into the apartment building owned by Katherine's next attempt at a husband. As the women's freedom movement is underway, Theresa is caught in the position of questioning the traditional roles for women, roles against a new woman in control of her body and her sexuality. By day she teaches at a school for the deaf. By night her nightly jaunts into New York's seamier nightlife scene, expose the dichotomy of being a professional woman by day who must maintain credibility and responsibility, especially with young children while trying to be sexually active, experimental and suffering the stigma attached to both as whore and as a free woman wanting purely physical experiences much the same as men, yet realizing the label is different.
Throughout this film, Brooks explores Theresa's perpetual search for acceptance by men but a need to maintain her own identity. From a failed affair with a Prof. she was a TA to, to her fling with Tony, a local hustler, Theresa is perpetually in question of her sexuality and her allure for men, making poor choices in her partners only to endure their violence and possessiveness - much like her father. That she meets up with a homicidal drifter the New Year's Eve night she has decided to quit drugs and cruising, is the irony of her self-discovery.
The only positive male in her life appears to be is LaVar Burton's character, Cap Jackson, the sullen brother of one of Theresa's students. He is the only male presence in the movie that is not malevolent or trying to extract something from Theresa and during her altercation with Tony at the school, he is the only person to defend and protect her.
While the scare of AIDS stole later generations' promiscuity, this tale still resonates for viewers, especially for women on their own, looking for intimacy yet craving isolation.
While the ending tends to drag with one too many drug scenes the movie still packs a wallop for a finale.
This is a masterpiece about the complexity of the human soul - although I don't think it has been / will ever be appreciated by many. Conventional life leaders, stay away, you won't even begin to understand this.
I watched this movie in 1977 and I was very impressed with the role and the performance of Diane Keaton. In the same year, Diane Keaton was the star of "Annie Hall", and I found this actress fantastic, capable of acting in the most different roles. Unfortunately, "Looking For Mr. Goodbar" has never been released on VHS, DVD or Blu-Ray in Brazil, and I have not had the chance to see this movie again. However, last month a cable TV channel presented it, I recorded it and yesterday I watched it again. The story is still good, but has aged. Although being a long movie, the reason why Theresa is promiscuous is not clear enough. There is oppression of her catholic family (specially her father), guilty problem due to the religion, there is the trauma of her congenital disease, explaining why she does not want to have babies, the sexual liberation of the woman in the 70's, but some explanation is missing. There is a scene that is very funny in the present days with AIDS, when Theresa laughs of James, because he used condom for having sex with her. Richard Gere has a performance very similar to his characters in 'American Gigolo' and 'Breathless', having the same movements of his body, hitting objects with his fingers like a drum etc. It is amazing the resemblance of his face at that time with the Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): 'À Procura de Mr. Goodbar' ('Looking For Mr. Goodbar')
Note: On 17 February 2015, I saw this movie again.
After the film, I was in a trance over the violent ending. I realized that what our heroine had gone through was slowly committing suicide with her soul - the ending was evident. Sad, but evident.
I saw the movie about 50 times following since I was trying to find my own sexuality (without the drugs) and found it to be the only film that could be a connection for that time. I knew the wrongs and rights of the film and looked at it as an adoring for Diana Keaton, who was wonderful in the film. It is honest - raw and somewhat entertaining.
It continues to be an outline of the 70's for me along with the music. Kudos to Paramount for releasing it with such openness. It has been bashed allot - but who has not been for being brutally honest?
The main parts of the plot have been hashed over here many times already, so I don't need to go over that again.
Having seen the whole thing from start to end, I believe that it will be sticking with me for some time. I can also say that I don't wholeheartedly agree with some of the conclusions the film seems to make.
To those that have said that Keaton's character is in some part responsible for her own fate, well, you're right. But then, we all are. If you get rear ended on the highway on the way to work tomorrow, it could have been avoided if you had never gotten in the car, or took a different route, or called in sick.
I don't think she went out looking for trouble. She was lonely, very lonely. She was trustful, too trustful. She was naive and looking for acceptance and a whole bunch of things that I, too, have been at some point in my life (and in some cases, still am). These things made her vulnerable. But just because someone is vulnerable does not give another license to take advantage of them. Or worse.
Can I be honest for a moment? I've been down that path. I encountered some of that "dark side." And though I in no way was as hurt by it as she was, I was still hurt. How scary to look back and realize that it could have been me. There but for the grace of God go I.
But it bothers me that this is a morality tale. Perhaps it's the idealist in me that just doesn't want to accept that bad things happen undeservedly. Perhaps I just want to think that we've moved on from the way society looked upon "unfettered" women in that time period. Those are the things I want, but then there is reality, too.
I was also bothered by some of the over-the-top stereotypes.
But still, wow. Just wow.
Displaced rage flashes across Diane Keaton's visage in her `love' scenes in the film. In half-shadows, in detached ambivalence, Keaton/Theresa Dunn chooses to embrace her hunger, and engages the audience in her spiritual annihilation. This is not a film about promiscuity, or the singles bar scene, or the `decadent' Seventies; those elements are settings and props, a backdrop for the unfolding of a much more interesting, emotionally violent internal war.
Judith Rossner's based-on-real-events makes its way to the screen largely intact in Richard Brook's dark film noir-ish take, despite the excising of the internal-monologue approach of the book. It's a glib, apt approach; the material has elements in common with `women's films' of the Thirties and Forties---narratively it details a woman who chooses a socially `unacceptable' method of living, largely out of disenfranchisement from her family and society, and the inevitable spiral through a dimly-lit Purgatory.
In those films, female destiny was decided by severe social delineations, determined by whether or not the male characters forgave social/sexual/economic transgressions; in `Goodbar', the era's different, and superficially the milieu has changed. It's the post-sexual revolution (as Richard Brooks hoarily points out in unsubtle references to the women's movement). The character's still straitjacketed, by her oppressive family structure and internal demons, and there (deceptively) appears a way out physically and psychically; new apartment, new life, a `room of one's own'. Theresa Dunn's freedom and self-determination will not go unpunished.
The first half-hour's riveting, because we see a young woman's transformation from naïve, emotionally hungry romantic to tough cynic. Even more chilling is that it's not entirely an act of will; in the face of an abusive father and a first love who treats her like a sexual cesspool, detachment becomes a weapon of survival. Brook's script adds greatly to the psychosexual claustrophobia of these moments, as it adheres so strongly to Theresa's consciousness that the spectator views not just what she experiences, but also what she imagines, desires, dreads. This appropriation of Theresa's thoughts and fantasies, woven into the structure of her physical existence, draws and binds the audience to her journey into Hell but is also problematic and disingenuous on Brook's part---as the film delineates her descent, Brooks' script appears to validate the integrity of her dilemma, but also implicates female sexual self-determination in her downfall. That is, Richard Brooks implies that Theresa's sexual freedom, her insistence on subverting traditional modes of feminine sexual behavior (in the film's `love' scenes she is frequently filmed on top, or on the right side of the screen, an unusual power-position for female characters in this context) is as much or more to blame than the mental damage sustained from her messy, classically dysfunctional upbringing. This is thematically the film's greatest weakness, the filmmakers' moral indecisiveness which severely undercuts the narrative thrust and focus of the film---who are we to blame, Theresa's emotionally screwy, perpetually in-denial family society for going down a moral spiral or is Theresa both protagonist/antagonist in this schematic arrangement?
Problematic, but this ambivalence and ambiguous thematic structure also makes this film infinitely more interesting. The anxiety provoked by these elements in conflict produces an unexpected, morbidly enticing drama. Most of the credit for this film's power goes to Diane Keaton's presence. Her work is perfectly modulated, at times repulsively real and raw, and at other times devastatingly poignant in the ways she lies to herself and others about the implications of her character's actions. She glows with dark energy, gradually becoming one with the film's descent into what seems like a long, long communion with Night. Keaton nearly single-handedly prevents the film from transmogrifying into an anti-feminist diatribe, by imbuing Theresa with qualities which seem infinitely flawed and human. Amazingly she does this without descending into dramatic grandstanding or exploiting her character's weaknesses. Flawed but full of conviction (even if it's misguided), seething with misdirected anger, Diane Keaton is overwhelming in the film's silent sequences, alone in Theresa's dim, cavernous apartment, suffocating in her loneliness. Regardless of how the writer/director or her fictional family chooses to judge her, it's in the amalgamation of moments like these (alone, in bed with just her pillow to gratify herself, no words are needed to show the turmoil she's feeling) that Keaton subverts the moralistic scheme of the film and shows us something infinitely more wonderful---a persona in conflict with herself, unable to find an easy resolution within and without her dimly lit surroundings. What the audience takes away are fragments of Theresa's ruptured psyche that add up to a very beguiling human drama. Keaton won the Oscar for the wrong film in 1977.
In the end, Theresa Dunn finds the resolution to her journey. It's horrific. It's even more of a shock, because by that point, the confused, morally disjointed film has gathered into a coherent portrait of a soul in transition. She's struggled, and does she earn her fate? Seen as a moral judgement on her `lifestyle', the climax might be seen as a `punishment' justified by the character's behavior and lack of morals. In a sense, it's true that the film offers up Theresa as an example of when Good Girls go Wrong and what happens when you're not what's construed as a `good woman' despite the goodies and freedoms that society periodically offers up.
An alternate reading of the resolution: Theresa finds her Animus, her male side embodied in a sexually ambiguous stranger who represents the impossibility of psychic reconciliation with the fragments of her divided spirit. Theresa exploits and uses men as physical revenge for her childhood and the psychic wounds inflicted by her father and first love, but in doing so creates a psychosexual monster of injudicious power.
Theresa meets, and embraces, her shadow.
Diane Keaton gives a performance that is by turns both sensitive and irritating as her character revolves around her schizophrenic lifestyle. As a child, Dunn was encased in plaster, a result of scoliosis, and it seems that this is what compels her to take so many risks in her effort to find the kind of freedom she was denied as a kid both by her spell in traction and by a harsh, overbearing Catholic upbringing. She is full of love, as indicated by her relationship with the deaf children she teaches, but gives it in all the wrong ways, leading to encounters with equally warped characters. One of these is Richard Gere in the role that first brought him to Hollywood's attention and which serves as a kind of template for the role of Jesse in Jim McBride's ill-fated remake of Breathless. The other is Tom Berenger, a borderline psychopath tortured by his own homosexuality. Both are characters no right-thinking adult would want to get involved with, but Keaton's self-destructive personality draws her to them, and while you want her to break free from her sleazy night-life a part of you can't help thinking she's going to get what she deserves.
The problem with Dunn is that she engages the viewers' sympathy in her straight persona then keeps pushing them away with her self-indulgent excesses and sometimes callous treatment of those who love her most. Combined with the relentlessly depressing atmosphere of impending tragedy that hangs over the entire film, this makes Looking for Mr. Goodbar a difficult film to enjoy (or even watch) and one to which many people wouldn't wish to return.
I also recently read the novel by Judith Rossner that the screenplay was based on, and one thing stands out definitely:In the movie adaptation,all of the men Theresa gets involved with are negative, destructive characters in one way or another. The most striking difference from the novel is in the portrayal of James, the conservative, traditional man who would like to marry her. The film's James, played by William Atherton, is ultimately a creepy kind of guy, who turns out to be pretty unstable, and not the nice, if dull, man he is in the book. Tony is also portrayed in a more negative light by Richard Gere. He is much more sleazy and vaguely sinister than in the novel. The relationship is built up more too, probably for contrast with the conventional marriage and family offered to her by James. Theresa's difficulties at mutual understanding with her angry father are clearly at the root of all her later struggles with male/female relationships. This too is emphasized much more strongly than in the novel.
Diane Keaton is convincing as a serious young woman with high ideals, who finds herself leading a double life as a bar hopping party girl by night. The essential contradictions of her character are never really resolved, but are certainly echoed by her sister Katherine's succession of failed marriages and affairs. Both stand in contrast to the third sister, Brigid, who has assumed the role of the traditional Catholic housewife and mother.
There's a really moving quality about Keaton's portrayal of a seemingly fragile, yet tough young woman who has had to cope with physical disability, rejection by those she loves, and being casually abandoned by a man she thought really loved her. Her insistence that she is " alone, not lonely", is not convincing, ultimately. She has chosen this life of thrill seeking and playing by her own rules, in contrast to the way her family would like her to have turned out, but her decision near the end of the movie to quit drugs and stop hanging out at bars is a strong indication of a new resolution to find a more meaningful life.
Whch leads us to the problematic ending. This film has been criticized for thirty years now for apparently showing that sexually liberated young women deserve to end up dead. Many viewers have interpreted it that way, especially when it was new, and the ending continues to trouble people today. I am unable to come to a definite conclusion about this. On one hand, it seems arbitrary and out of left field, and yet we know that the real life tragedy that inspired the novel occurred pretty much like what is shown here. For what it's worth, I don't feel that the movie is suggesting that she deserved it, or somehow she had it coming. One might assume that she could end up being killed by either the increasingly unstable James, or the small time criminal Tony, both of whom have shown jealousy, possessiveness, and a violent streak, especially startling coming from James. But her death as the result of a sudden attack from a total stranger doesn't seem to fit the possible ending one might have expected. It's as if she were to be struck by lightning while walking home from the bar. One could even say that it has very little to do with her, but is the result of the uncontrollable self hatred of the man who kills her; something foreshadowed by his angry response to the man who was flirting with him earlier at the bar. This man was a stick of dynamite waiting to go off, and anyone could have been the victim, but it just happened to be her.
The movie has its flaws, but the overall impact is powerful, and Diane Keaton is lovely and heartbreaking in the role of a lifetime. I only wish Theresa's story could have had a happy ending, but then it wouldn't be the thought provoking and moving story it is. Well worth seeing, but a very sad film about a sad life.
This revelation came out when Theresa had a violent spat with James, William Atherton, the only man in the movie who really was in love with and wanted to marry her. The other two men that Theresa had affairs with in the movie Martin, Alan Feinstein, and Tony, Richard Gere, looked at Theresa as a piece of tail who was only good for a one night stand. Who after having their way with her with put Theresa away in the drawer until the next time they felt like having a romp in the woods.
Being brought up in a strict Irish-Catholic home but with a dark fear of getting married and having children Theresa choose the life that she led as a 1970's swinger by night and a teacher of deaf children by day in NYC. Her younger sister Katherine, Tuesday Weld, was also not what her father Mr. Dunn, Richard Kiley, thought a nice Catholic girl should be. Even though she kept it from her father Katherine had at least one abortion and married a man out of her faith Barney,Joel Fabiani, who was Jewish and who her father openly resented. It was Barney who later introduced Katherine into a sex and drug lifestyle and in the end left her for a much younger girl who he was shacked up with.
Theresa's father was obsessive but very sympathetic in his wanting Theresa not to leave home and move in with Katherine and Barney in New York City. Still he could do nothing to stop her since she was an adult. Working as a teacher for young deaf children seemed to give Theresa the family that she was longing for but at the same time denied for herself by not wanting to be a wife and mother.
The two lovers that Therea had before James were just what she wanted, persons only to have sex with and really nothing else. Martin who after he had sex with Theresa couldn't even look at or talk to her and Tony who was both a 1970's stud-type and coke-head not only got her turned on to coke but got her fired from her job as a teacher for being arrested for drug possession. The only man who could have turned Theresa's life around and who Theresa's father looked upon as his own son, James a social worker in NYC was rejected by Theresa when he, unlike Martin and Tony, showed that he really loved her and wanted to marry her and not just spend the night with Theresa and leave her the next morning.
On New Years Eve Theresa was at the singles-bar celebrating the coming of the New Year when she picked up Gary, a male hustler. Gary was just attacked by a gang of thugs together with his room-mate for being in drag. The very disturbed young man was a ticking time bomb ready to explode and it was his affair with Theresa that New Years Eve night that set him off. Feeling inadequate because he couldn't preform sexually with Theresa, probably because he was almost dead drunk at the time, Gary took out his frustrations on Theresa who realized only too late what an unstable and dangerous person she was involved with and brutally slashed and strangled her to death.
"Looking for Mr. Goodbar" is a dark and depressing film but it honestly reflects the world of the 1970's drug and swinging generation and the story of a young woman who's psychosis played right into that world. The movie is based on the true story of Roseann Quinn who was murdered by John Wayne Wilson whom she picked up at the Tweeds Bar on New Years Eve 1973. Wilson hanged himself in his jail cell on May 5, 1973 some five months later while awaiting trial. It was later reported that a jail guard who was sick and tired of Wilson's threats of committing suicide provided him with the bed sheets that he ended up hanging himself with.
Released in 1977, "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" must have shocked quite a few people with it's tale of sex, drugs . . . and more sex and drugs. Diane Keaton plays Theresa, an elementary school teacher specializing in deaf education who's nighttime excursions to the single's bars in New York City seldom bring her back to her apartment alone.
I must admit this movie was shocking to me throughout the first 2 hours. . but the last fifteen minutes will leave you breathless. . you must see this film. .
This movie grips you by neck, shakes you, and screams at you "I didn't make this up!". The screenwriting takes us on a path that has been travelled many times before (protagonist goes out to "find herself"), but only few movies struggle with it so skillfully on these levels. It tries to go down the road of the sexual revolution and women's rights, but finds that at the end of that road "free love" is not as free as it might seem. It praises their achievements and condemns them at the same time. Even love is not painted in its traditionally positive color - in fact it is (part of) the culprit that throws Theresa into her decision to leave behind her traditional life in the very beginning. A painful, dark movie, really.
Talking about darkness... the lighting design is innovative and absolutely noteworthy, but extremely low at times - so make sure you watch it on a quality screen.
I have tried to post comments about Looking for Mr. Goodbar before, but it never went through--so I'll try again:
Looking for Mr. Goodbar is often labeled as moralistic, sexist, and homophobic. You can view it that way depending on your own personal beliefs. But I view Looking for Mr. Goodbar as a movie about repression--especially by religious beliefs.
Diane Keaton plays Teresa--watch for Keaton's comedic handling of this character, especially in the scene at her sister's swinger party. Teresa is trying to find her way in a world that is experiencing a huge cultural shift. She transforms from a student staying at home with her hypocritical, strict Catholic family to a teacher of deaf students living on her own in the city, cruising the singles bar scene of the '70s. She yearns to have a life as she watches on TV the feminists march on Washington as she spends New Years alone babysitting her sister's child. Next year she'll have a much more different, but tragic, New Years.
There are some problems with Looking for Mr. Goodbar though that turn it into something less than a classic movie. Teresa's quest for independence turns into self-destructive behavior that seems to stem from the fact that her father is dying. Melodramatics, over-the-top dialog--especially Richard Gere's--also make it a tad campy. But that might be all right. I also absolutely hate the scene where she oversleeps from a night of partying and is late for school. She finds the kids running wild in the classroom and blaming her for not caring about them. I guess they never heard of substitute teachers. A lot of her school scenes slow the movie down.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar has a great, guilty pleasure disco soundtrack--Donna Summer's "Could this be Magic," the O'Jay's "The Backstabbers," Boz Scagg's "Lowdown," Diana Ross' "LoveHangover," and Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me this Way." The songs work well with the scenes, too. The opening and closing scenes brilliantly capture the essence of the movie--the photo montage in the beginning credits and the haunting image of Keaton's blinking face in the end.
Richard Brooks wrote and directed this penetrating study of social decay that is photographed (by William Fraker) with great attention to congealed, soggy coloring and dusty darkness.
Everything takes place against a backdrop of Roman Catholic values.
A compelling and atmospheric drama that allows us into the skin of its protagonist.
Downbeat, yes, but fascinating.
I always felt that Diane Keaton won her Oscar for the wrong movie; this was released the same year as "Annie Hall". The entire cast is great - a young Richard Gere, Tuesday Weld and William Atherton, to name a few. All of Richard Brooks' movies have interesting casts and this is no exception. I can understand why some viewers find this movie offensive; it all depends on what you want out of life, though.
When it was released 1977, many viewed "Looking for Mr Goodbar" as a supremely reactionary film. This is a flick about sexually liberated women who turn their backs to Catholic and conservative values, have lots of sex and are then beaten and stabbed to death by men. Gay men, meanwhile, are portrayed as sexually confused brutes who stab women as a means of assuaging their impotency around women. The supposed message: don't sleep around and stay away from crazy gays!
Indeed, upon release, a number of Catholic priests praised "Looking For Mr Goodbar" and took out newspaper spreads promoting the film. To believers, "Goodbar" was touted as a "stern warning!" Brooks himself structures the film as a descent into hell, Theresa's basement apartment becoming increasingly dark and dingy as the film progresses. The film then ends with Theresa being killed in the shadows, Brooks focusing on a creepy freeze-frame of her darkness shrouded dead face. It's like an image out of "The Exorcist".
But whilst "Goodbar" may be reactionary in some regards, Brooks also complicates things. His male characters are uniformly violent/disgusting and several sequences seem designed to bash conservative America (see Brooks' masterpiece, "Elmer Gantry"). The film seems less like a condemnation of the sexual revolution, than a nihilistic repudiation of everything, including sex; any of the men Theresa encounters could be killers.
Elsewhere the film undermines anyone who might embody a traditional normality. University professors cheat on their wives and exploit female students, Theresa's own family unit is fractured, sustained by repressive illusion, and her father is a brute. Meanwhile, the men Theresa sleeps with dance with phallic switchblades or are ignorant of her needs. The film's gay murderer is himself not "crazy because he is gay", but because social forces won't allow him to be gay (he juggles a wife and an offensively portrayed, stereotypical gay lover). Theresa also echoes the gay character in complex ways. She is excluded from a normal life because of a hereditary disease, and is the victim of a society that assigns people ﬁxed roles, imposing on them notions of what a "real man" or "real woman" should be. For Brooks, normality seems like a ideological construct, and violence arises more out of a cultural situation than individual responsibility. Complicating things further, the film's "love scenes" are shot to emphasise Theresa's pleasure and the bars she frequents are positively portrayed, and not hive's of debauchery.
Regardless of the film's message, "Looking for Mr Goodbar" is a dull, repetitive film. It features a number of jarring flashback/fantasy sequences, is sensationalistic, flaunts its grime, is overly proud of its sleazier elements and wastes a strong performance by Diane Keaton.
6/10 - Worth one viewing.
All I got from that ending was a brutal stomach ache similar to the lingering pain induced by a cheap sucker punch to the gut. I will readily admit to having gained no further understanding or insight into this film over the years. I still can't imagine why anyone would make a film like this, or what possible value or entertainment viewers derived from it.
For me, Diane Keaton's performance is the only thing in the movie that keeps it from getting the lowest vote. That she managed to project some warmth and humanity from such a crudely drawn, relentlessly sad, and gratuitously self-destructive character, only made the ending that much more horrific and senseless. It's easily one of the worst experiences I've ever had in a movie theater.