|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 12 October 1999|
Although the standard saying has it that the postman always rings twice, the metaphorical mail carrier just about jams the bell through the doorframe in ‘Goodbye Lover.’ It’s hard to calculate which is more surprising in this sexy film noir: the maze of plot twists or the wickedly engaging sense of humor.
Patricia Arquette plays Sandra Dunmore, a young, married Los Angeles realtor who sings in her church choir and draws inspiration from the ‘Sound of Music’ soundtrack. Sandra doesn’t see anything contradictory in her habit of dressing up in kinky attire and having wild sex with her husband’s brother in the homes she’s supposed to be showing to prospective buyers. Brother-in-law Ben (Don Johnson) is not so sanguine about the affair. He, too, is an upstanding churchgoer and worries greatly about the emotional stability of Sandra’s alcoholic spouse Jake (Dermot Mulroney), who appears to be on the verge of massive self-destruction. Ben’s eye starts to wander toward co-worker Peggy (Mary-Louise Parker) and thinks he ought to break off the affair with Sandra. But then …
Although bodies start to pile up, there’s very little blood. Instead, there is outrageous human behavior of just about every stripe, with duplicity, greed and desire turning up in some unorthodox guises. Director Roland Joffee, who previously hasn’t demonstrated much gift for deliberate comedy (his version of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ was very funny, but not in ways that the filmmakers seemed to intend), turns out to have quite a good satirical eye and ear for contemporary shenanigans involving adultery and homicide. His take on the script by Ron Peer and Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow, based on Peer’s story, is broad enough to give ‘Goodbye Lover’ the tone of a playful, ironic fable without turning it into over-the-top farce.
Arquette does a bang-up job as Sandra, a hellcat who sees herself as a pure-hearted heroine, making the dichotomy credible and hilarious (and pretty darn seductive, too). Mulroney and Johnson are fine as the at-odds brothers, and Parker is reminiscent of a sultrier, less neurasthenic Sandy Dennis as the mousy-seeming Peggy. However, the movie is just about stolen by Ellen DeGeneres as a spectacularly cynical LAPD detective, with dialogue so caustic that no embellishment is needed.
There are a couple of crashes and splashes in ‘Goodbye Lover,’ but the most exciting audio effects are in the musical soundtrack. The film utilizes not only six songs from ‘The Sound of Music’ with Julie Andrews reproduced in gorgeous full cry, but also James Brown’s rich, growling "I Feel Good" and a basket of other thematically appropriate goodies throughout.
‘Goodbye Lover’ is a lot like its leading lady Sandra, cute, clever and truly naughty. It’s worth a look.