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Goodbye, Lover

Review by Dave Luty
Posted 16 April 1999

goodbye.gif (1630 bytes)   Directed by Roland Joffé

Starring   Patricia Arquette, Dermot Mulroney
Ellen DeGeneres, Mary-Louise Parker,
Don Johnson, Ray McKinnon, Alex Rocco,
Andre Gregory, John Neville, Vincent Gallo,
Barry Newman, and Bruce Rogers

Written by Pamela Gray

Goodbye, Lover is a jokey piece of cynical dime-novel pulp, the type that you can find now find for a dime a dozen. You get (usually) two amorals who plot to murder a third out of sexual jealousy and/or financial greed, you get complications after the murder, and with the complications you get more murder and the exposure of a few double-crosses along the way. What you don’t get, nowadays in the age of self-consciously cool irony, are characters worth caring about or even worth knowing at all. In fact, the most astonishing twist in Goodbye, Lover actually comes early on when one of the characters tells another that he’s ready for something real in his life. What’s shocking isn’t so much that he says it, it’s that he seems to mean it. But, have no fear, the film doesn’t mean it for a second. It quickly becomes apparent that any hinting at sincerity is just grist for the plot mill.

What makes Goodbye, Lover substandard even by today’s standards is that its twist-minded plot is so boringly routine. After the first murder, all the revelations and violence coming down the pike can be seen coming from a pretty long distance away, and precious little follows behind. That means the film must survive on tone alone, but director Roland Joffe, whose history of ultra-earnest work ranges from the sublime (The Killing Fields) to the ridiculous (The Scarlet Letter), isn’t prepared to deal with something so dependent upon a hip, sneering attitude. So he uses his formidable visual skills to throw some slick gloss on the screen, which equates to lots of reflected visuals, moody colors and silly extreme close-ups, while the script lays on lazy incongruity gags like having a depraved vixen repeatedly sing from The Sound of Music, but little of this does much to hide the fact that almost nothing is going on.

It’s stupid to talk about the plot in a review, because all Goodbye, Lover has to offer the viewer are the few twists that it has. Suffice it to say that it’s driven forward by a quartet of upper-middle class folks looking to drop the word "middle." Don Johnson, Patricia Arquette, Dermot Mulroney, and Mary Louise Parker perform a square dance of illicit, occasionally kinky sex, multiple stabbings of the back, and sometimes literal stabbings of the back, while Ellen DeGeneres investigates from the sidelines as the predictably cynical, world-weary detective who’s so cynical, and so weary, that her most lively, entertaining bit comes when she gets to pick corn dog out of her teeth.

Naturally, she’s given a partner who is exactly one hundred and eighty degrees from her, an innocent, religiously-minded yokel who believes absolutely everything everyone tells him. His name is Detective Rollins, played by Ray McKinnon, and he ends up being Goodbye, Lover’s most refreshing ingredient, because unlike anyone or anything else on the screen, he (almost) never winks. McKinnon plays his golly-gee rube straight as an arrow, like he means it, and so his wide-eyed naivete actually serves to generate some giggles. That is something which can’t be said for most everything else in this mind-numbingly cheap piece of half-hearted cynicism, the sum total point of which is that hey, the world is a nasty, ugly place, but isn’t it fun to see that some folks think it’s not? Uh, yeah, sure, that’s really fun.

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