Only When I Laugh (1981) Poster

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Mason's Finest Hour
Isaac585530 November 2005
Much has been written over the years regarding the 'one-note" performances of Marsha Mason. Four of these "one-note" performances earned Mason Oscar nominations and IMO this is the best of those four. ONLY WHEN I LAUGH is Neil Simon's big screen re-working of his own play THE GINGERBREAD LADY. Marsha Mason plays Georgia Hines, an actress recently released from rehab, trying to get her career going again, trying to re-establish a relationship with her daughter (Kristy McNichol) and trying to stay sober and not really doing a great job with any of them. Mason hits all the right notes here and makes Georgia a flawed and realistic human being. Some of Mason's best moments involve no dialogue at all...there is a wonderful scene about 2/3 of the way through the film where an on-the-edge Georgia is walking the streets of Manhattan around dusk and it seem like every other storefront she passes is a bar. She then stops at an interior pay phone to call her doctor from rehab; however, he is not present and Georgia doesn't want to talk to the doctor who does answer the phone. This scene is extremely well-played by Mason and I think it's the scene that probably nailed the Oscar nomination for her. Kristy McNichol charms, as always, as Polly, Georgia's self-sufficient daughter who still yearns to be Mommie's little girl sometimes. James Coco and Joan Hackett also deliver Oscar nominated performances as Georgia's best friends, Jimmy, an unemployed actor and Toby, a vain, society beauty trying to cope with the fact that her best years have passed her by. Hackett is particularly impressive as the fading beauty whose fragile ego doesn't keep her from kicking Georgia in the ass when she needs it. Though Simon definitely has stronger screenplays under his belt, ONLY WHEN I LAUGH is worth seeing if for no other reason, the strong performances by the four leads, three of which earned Oscar nominations.
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Cheap shots
moonspinner557 July 2007
Comedy-drama from writer Neil Simon, an expansion of his unsuccessful play "The Gingerbread Lady", has Marsha Mason playing an alcoholic Broadway star just checking out of rehab and back into reality when her estranged teenage daughter tells her she wants the two to be roommates. Fairly lively, bitchy film full of wisecracks and tears becomes flabby in the second and third acts, mostly due to poor editing which might have eliminated the dross (and a few side-plots that lead nowhere). Mason performs one too many dramatic monologues on the telephone, and there's six minutes of wasted film involving two college guys trying to pick up Mason and daughter Kristy McNichol at a health food restaurant. The movie has been designed to show off Mason's range (her vulnerability, her wiseass humor, her pathos, etc.). She's striking walking around New York City in her cape, less so when she's sniffling or giving an actors' seminar on the phone. Mason matches up perfectly with McNichol, but 17-year-old Kristy is shunted off to the side (and I disliked the padded sequence where she gets drunk like mamma). There are some fine moments here, but the picture gets off to a really bad start with an excruciating scene between James Coco and a Hispanic delivery boy. Simon takes one cheap shot after another, and yet the film isn't really about alcoholism at all, it's about masochistic behavior. **1/2 from ****
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Good Marsha, Middling Simon
jjnxn-110 February 2014
Lesser Neil Simon dramedy with a fine performance from Marsha Mason. The problem is that her character is so selfish it's difficult to sympathize with her and since she's the focus of the piece that's vital. The result is that you feel detached from the proceedings. Purportedly Marsha's character Georgia was based on Judy Garland but as written she has none of Judy's enchantress qualities that made her often maddening behavior tolerable to her intimates for so many years. Georgia is thorny without the magnetism or charm that would compensate for her petty, difficult and sometimes cruel behavior.

Joan Hackett gives her customarily excellent performance for which she was Oscar nominated but the part isn't award worthy. Still since this was her final feature film role before her death it nice that she was so honored for her many years of quality work. James Coco was similarly acknowledged and his part is more fleshed out but he has likewise had better roles. Kristy McNichol, at the height of her fame when this was made, surely took the project on feeling it would be a good showcase for her but except for one confrontation scene her character doesn't make much impact and it seems the script doesn't know what it wants her to be.

Not a bad film but for being a Neil Simon project the script is missing an incisiveness that is the hallmark of his better work.
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Only When I Laugh-It Hurts So Much to Be So Good ***1/2
edwagreen14 February 2010
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.
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Great Film
joygu18 September 2005
This is a great Film, not only is it a fast moving film, but it also shows how alcohol can ruin someone's life and what effects it will have not only on themselves but also on those around her. It has a great mother daughter relationship that is being tested from the beginning of the movie. This movie also shows the support of her good friends and how much they are will to put up with! This movie was ahead of it time for when it came out in the early 80's and touched on a lot of subjects that were not discussed even for 1981!! Marsha Mason plays a woman with a drinking problem, has a gay best friend and a friend who is obsessed with her looks, she is divorced and she is not the parent who raised her daughter because of her alcohol problems. Kristy McNichol plays the daughter who really only wants her mother to notice her and pay attention to her.

Yes, it maybe somewhat similar to The Goodbye Girl but there are some major differences. It also has great story and moves along fast, is funny, and at one point you really do not like Marsha Mason character, which is what a good movie does!!! But this is a movie you need to see for yourself and make your mind up!!
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Simon, Mason, Coco, Hackett, and McNichol - How Can You Go Wrong!
jamie-8118 July 2000
Marsha Mason's performance of a lifetime - snubbed by the academy. This was by far her best performance since The Goodbye Girl. This film was not your ordinary Niel Simon flick. A tour-de-force with all the elements: Tears, Laughter, and each character going through their own seperate turmoil. James Coco is great as the gay wannabe actor/best friend. Joan Hackett is brilliant as Toby Landau, the aging Park Avenue beauty, who dreads growing old. Ms. Hackett won a Golden Globe for her performance in this film. Oscar nominations for Mason, Hackett, and Coco. Too bad none of them won.
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Palpable Transition from Stage to Screen
ctheslayer23 October 2003
Only When I Laugh is the film version of Neil Simon's The Gingerbread Lady. Unfortunately, the title isn't the only difference. While the original play deals with the seriousness of substance abuse and co-dependancy, its film counterpart plays it more for laughs - think The Goodbye Girl II, complete with the lead character's change in occupation from cabaret singer to stage actress and the same neurotic frenzy Marsha Mason brought to the role of Paula McFadden. It's the story of Georgia, a recovering alcoholic fresh from rehab, who's teenage daughter Polly decides to come live with her. While the two are working out the whole mother-daughter bit, Georgia finds herself too caught up in the miserable lives of her gay, unsuccessful actor friend Jimmy and her vain yet insecure rich, female best friend Tobey. There are some fantastic performances in this film, especially Joan Hackett as Tobey. Neil Simon, known for memorable monologues, wrote some his finest for the play, and they transfer quite well to film.
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One of Marsha's finest moments!
BaileySEA23 March 2007
Neil Simon adapted his play "The Gingerbread Lady" into this wonderful bittersweet comedy. Kristy McNichol is wonderful as teenage daughter Polly. Marsha Mason deftly portrays boozy Broadway actress Georgia Hines. Veterans James Coco and Joan Hackett lend excellent support as a gay failed actor and fading Park Avenue beauty. Mason is wonderful as Georgia, as written she is a witty, genuine human being. Only When I Laugh is one of Neil Simon's more poignant screen adaptations. Through the good and the bad the viewer is never left wanting. This is one of my all-time favorite Neil Simon vehicles. For a play adaptation it never feels stagy.
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Neil and Marsha
SnoopyStyle10 December 2017
Broadway star Georgia Hines (Marsha Mason) has finished with her rehab. Her friends include gay struggling actor Jimmy Perrino and socialite Toby Landau. Her estranged daughter Polly (Kristy McNichol) wants to move in for a year. Her former boyfriend David Lowe has written a play about her and wants her to play the part.

The combination of Neil Simon and Marsha Mason makes this an almost instant awards bait movie. That comes with both good and bad baggage. There is something writery about Neil's writing. He's trying too hard with the humor. It doesn't feel natural sometimes. I do like the mother daughter chemistry. The boyfriend is problematic and I hoped for her to avoid him at all costs although I understand the needs of an actress. This definitely has Neil's sensibilities but it doesn't have enough cinematic flair. It's a step down from their earlier collaboration. Also watch out for young hottie Kevin Bacon. Then there is falling off the wagon. It hits on certain good notes but I'm uncertain about other notes being played.
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An early cristy mc. nicol lights up the screen.
triple81 April 2004
I 'm surprised there's only a handful of comments on this movie. I saw Only when I laugh a long time ago in in the theatre and moderately enjoyed it. On the minus side, it's a real tearjerker in a somewhat manilulative way-I cried I do admit-but it's one of those movies where your supposed to cry-on the plus side however, I enjoyed Cristy Mc.nicol's performance and found the mother/daughters relationship touching and the story in general seemed somewhat realistic if a bit hollywood. I wouldn't call this a comedy at all, though there might have been some funny moments, it was more drama oriented. I had thought this was a very popular movie-but not so, judging from lack of comments on this board. At any rate, this surely didn't wow me or anything but it wasn't bad and was definetly above average.
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Great Mom / Daughter Movie
boyfreechik8916 November 2005
Kristie McNichol is a wonderful actress, also in this movie,I grew up watching her on TV and in movies,I wish she would come out of retirement from acting,also, because now my daughter likes her "old" movies. This movie is wonderful for moms and teens, even if your life isn't like the caricatures. LOOOOVE IIIIIIT !!! Also Marsha Mason and the rest of the cast are just as wonderful. Kristie and Marshas caricatures are believable as mother and daughter, and very funny together. A very good movie I recommend it. But still can't find it to buy on DVD. Hopefully it will be released soon. Hollywood don't make movies like this anymore.
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Only When Your Bored...
Vertigo-2723 July 1999
Film dealing with the relationship between an aging alcoholic actress and her teen daughters.

Suppose to be a comedy but comes off more like a slow moving drama... Not really enjoyable at all... only a young Kristy McNichol brightening the screen, and stealing every scene she is in... However all actors are superb, working desprerately with the flimsy story.

Possibly the biggest problem with this movie is the fact that it is so obviously meant to only be done as a play, that it almost feels like you are watching one. Title and premise are promising but this only sadly falls short of a goal that could or rather should have been met... being a better movie...
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Shilpot724 September 2010
Marsha Mason, Neil Simon and the subject matter, drew me to this film, but it's quite dreadful and I was unable to finish watching it, even though I'd paid for an expensive, out of print, VHS.

It's like a rather boring made for TV movie of the time. It's a film that handles tender issues without love. The characters are clichéd and lightweight. A little bit like watching a movie length version of some 80s-style no brainer like Hart To Hart.

I felt quite angry with the person who recommended it to me in the same breath as other great films of the era. So, I thought I'd come online and warn others, before they made the same mistake and paid good money to see it.
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