Monday 3 July 2023

Movie Review: Only When I Laugh (1981)

Genre: Dramedy
Director: Glenn Jordan
Starring: Marsha Mason, Kristy McNichol, Joan Hackett, James Coco
Running Time: 120 minutes

Synopsis: Divorced Broadway star Georgia Hines (Marsha Mason) completes a three month alcoholism rehabilitation program. As she mulls a stage comeback, her 17-year-old daughter Polly (Kristy McNichol) moves in. Also in Georgia's orbit are beauty-obsessed friend Toby (Joan Hackett), gay struggling actor Jimmy (James Coco), and ex-lover and writer David (Dave Dukes), whose latest play may relaunch Georgia's career.

What Works Well: Neil Simon adapts his play The Gingerbread Lady, and the screen treatment benefits from shared focus among several rounded characters with imperfect lives. Marsha Mason excels as a diva beset by insecurities, her travails most poignant when reflected upon a daughter transitioning into adulthood. While Georgia's alcoholism threatens to derail her life, Toby is a slave to vanity while Jimmy holds onto a dream well past the expiry date. Polly is the sponge absorbing disintegration and not immune to damaging shockwaves. Refreshingly, the characters are honestly conceited and the resolutions deservedly messy.

What Does Not Work As Well: This being Neil Simon, the dialogue is frequently weighed down by eyeroll-inducing literariness, and the two hour running time is unnecessarily excessive. The burdens carried by the occupants of Broadway's ecosystem are very much first world problems.

Conclusion: A character-rich warts-and-all peek behind the stage curtain. 

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