A boozy Broadway actress comes out of a 12-week cure to face the problems of her best friends as well as her needy daughter. She tries to balance the terrors of returning to work with the ... See full summary »



(screenplay), (based on the play "The Gingerbread Lady")

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Nominated for 3 Oscars. Another 2 wins & 5 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Polly Hines
Toby Landau
David Lowe
Vincent Heller (Lou)
Man in Bar
Ed Moore ...
Dr. Bob Komack
Byron Webster ...
Peter Coffield ...
Mr. Tarloff
Mark Schubb ...
Adam Kasabian
Ellen La Gamba ...
Nurse Garcia
Nancy Nagler ...
Heidi Stanton


A boozy Broadway actress comes out of a 12-week cure to face the problems of her best friends as well as her needy daughter. She tries to balance the terrors of returning to work with the demands of all around her with humor and insight, while staying off the booze. Written by Ed Lorusso

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

new york city | based on play | See All (2) »


Kristy McNichol is a daughter who never had a childhood. Marsha Mason is a mother who never grew up. And when they get together, they're the most mismatched roomates since "The Goodbye Girl". See more »


Comedy | Drama


R | See all certifications »




Release Date:

25 September 1981 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Neil Simon's Only When I Laugh  »

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Did You Know?


The production notes for this movie state: "Laughing in the face of adversity", says writer Neil Simon, "is a characteristic of many actors and actresses. It's one of the traits that draws them to the theatre in the first place. Like having a steady hand is a big assist in becoming a brain surgeon. The easy familiarity with which Simon refers to his characters - as if they were long-time friends - grows out of his approach to his work. "All writers have their own disciplines", Simon says. "Mine is to push myself into a state of mind that locks out every distraction - until I'm alone with the people I'm writing about. I see them. I see their surroundings. By now, I can do it on a train, a plane, almost anywhere, although it's easier in an office, which is where I generally work". There, Simon would put in about four hours a day. "The number of hours is unimportant", Simon went on to say. "It's the every day' that counts". In developing his characters, Simon envisions their most minute personality characteristics, the way they "walk, dress, speak, hold a glass, hold a cigarette, cock their heads, answer the telephone . . . everything. Sometimes, it's pure imagination. But if I have an actor in mind for a role, it helps". See more »


Jimmy is arranging a bouquet of orange flowers to welcome Georgia home from re-hab. He is shown adding a stem of eucalyptus to the bouquet and two branches of orange flowers that stick up much further than the other flower stems in the vase. When the delivery boy comes and Jimmy turns to get the money to pay for the groceries, the bouquet of orange flowers has no eucalyptus stem and the flowers are all the same height again. See more »


Bartender: What's the problem?
Georgia: Do you see cigarettes? That's the problem.
Bartender: How much money did you put in?
Georgia: Twelve dollar like it says.
See more »


Features Gilda (1946) See more »


I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan
Music by Arthur Schwartz and lyrics by Howard Dietz
Sung by Marsha Mason and Kristy McNichol
See more »

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User Reviews

Only When I Laugh-It Hurts So Much to Be So Good ***1/2
14 February 2010 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Another marvelous Marsha Mason performance as a recently returning actress from rehabilitation.

Neil Simon's script is as crisp and vivid as ever. Too bad that both Miss Mason and Diane Keaton's performance in "Reds" were overlooked by the Academy when the Oscar went to the sentimental Katharine Hepburn for "On Golden Pond." Academy members were apparently voting for Henry Fonda for best actor in record numbers and just went down the line for Hepburn as well. What a shame.

The film deals with the frustrations and hopes of 3 people and that doesn't even include a worthy performance by Kristy McNichol as the daughter.

As the gay actor, desperately trying to succeed, the late James Coco was excellent. In the supporting category, he is well matched by the late Joan Hackett, tremendous as Mason's best friend, whose marriage is apparently falling apart.Those glittering grayish clothes that she wore expressed her emotions so well. No one could also wear those poncho outfits that Mason wore. They depicted a troubled, but independent lady.

This is an excellent case study of 3 friends in turmoil and how they try to cope while supporting each other emotionally. Trouble is that Georgia (Marsha Mason) allows herself to fall back and drink again. She says that as a youngster she wanted to be another Susan Hayward. She sure is crying tomorrow and smashing up her life.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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