People are always lamenting the state of romantic films – the romantic comedy in particular. Has it really gotten that bad? I can’t be sure. Perhaps, but isn’t the consensus that film isn’t as provocative. Still, I won’t lament on that situation. Instead I’m looking back to three oldies of sorts – two comedies, and a drama each centring on romance in some strange places. What makes these films important is the success each found with Oscars and other award bodies. Each won an acting Oscar in fact, not too shabby for a romance, eh?
My mother was a huge fan of An Officer & A Gentleman and I saw it when I was very young. Who can forget that memorable ending where Richard Gere – in one of his few performances I like – picked Debra Winger up and walked her out of that horrible place? Not me. And speaking of endings, who didn’t feel just a little misty eyed when The Goodbye Girl ended and we saw that Dreyfuss had left his guitar behind? Not me. And say what you want about Jessica Lange in Tootsie but who wasn’t cheering when she and Dustin finally hooked up? Not me. Each takes a different perspective on love, and each succeeds.
I often wonder why Marsha Mason doesn’t get more work, and then I remember than Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange aren’t getting much work either, but I digress. Mason is a talented actress and was on quite a streak back in her day but she really shines in The Goodbye Girl. There’s a moment in the film when she buys her groceries only to have them all fall down on the sidewalk. Marsha’s reaction is always realistic and never forced. The romance between her and the wandering Dreyfuss is excellent. The premise is so simple and it never goes for the loud and obvious, but it’s the little things that make this so special. It’s the same in some ways with An Officer & A Gentleman. I always lament the fact that Debra doesn’t have an Oscar and then I always marvel that she was nominated for this. Not that the nomination wasn’t deserved. It was. But the performance is so atypical of Oscar. Debra has never been a showy actress and An Officer & A Gentleman is a film that focuses on so much more than the romance between her and Gere. The film examines so much and yet it never loses its touch as one of the better romances of the 80s. sometimes I wonder if Top Gun wasn’t trying to take a page out of their book, but let’s not go there….
Let’s go instead to Tootise. Dustin Hoffman in drag doesn’t seem like the ideal premise for a romance and this VERY light comedy doesn’t seem like an ideal Best Picture nominee. But I’d probably have given it the Oscar. Why does Tootsie work so well? I never can underestimate Jessica Lange. Her Oscar win has become hated. But I don’t care. People undervalue the difficulty of playing a romantic lead. It isn’t easier because it’s less baity and it’s more than her beauty. In a film filled with so much of the ridiculous she manages to keep the film from becoming over the top. Even if Tootsie wasn’t winning Picture I wish they’d have given Hoffman the Oscar to prevent Rain Man from getting than honour – but I digress. It’s not as excellent as his performance in The Graduate (few are) but it’s exceptional nonetheless. His comedic timing is impressive – and speaking of impressive, what of Teri Garr? Perfect in everyway in her small role I always smile to remember that she too was Oscar nominated.
I suppose the consensus is true. Films like these aren’t made any more, but the thing is if they are made they aren’t as esteemed. Why didn’t Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind get more recognition? Why did The Upside of Anger and Bandits get none? But I won’t go there. I’ll revel in the past, each of the three is on my list of favourites. Each is extra special in its own way, it’s unfair to pit them against each other. Bu I’ll ask you to, anyway. Pick a favourite? Which do you like the most?