Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)

Looking for Mr. Goodbar, (1977) Dir. Richard Brooks
Starring: Diane Keaton, Tuesday Weld, Richard Gere, Tom Berenger

Looking for Mr. Goodbar is a film you really do want to like; there's some amount of weighty expectation to it - it was never released on DVD and as such is quite difficult to get hold of, but I've been constantly hearing about how it was one of the early, key texts of New Hollywood. It may be a minor film, but it starred a very young Richard Gere, an equally youthful Tom Berenger, and Diane Keaton fresh off the success of The Godfather. I was always baffled as to why it wasn't more available.

The trouble is, the Diane Keaton character, Terry, is rather likeable. Throughout the film, she has a chilled-out, increasingly free-spirited attitude towards sex and drugs, a prickly inability to go for a 'safe' man, and a mattress-on-the-floor bohemian sensibility, boldly inviting Richard Gere home with her. Even as Brooks beats us over the head with Theresa's 'daddy issues', combined with her cliched 'rebellion' from her strict Catholic family, she feels sympathetic. Brooks poses her character as dangerously sleazy and promiscuous; her nymphomania is attributed completely to her family problems. Yet she seems coolly above it all, in many ways - until the end of the film,I did not feel that the narrative had served to judge her. It is easy to vicariously enjoy her lifestyle - particularly her flagrant disregard for the social values which have for so long defined not only what is right for women to do, but what it is safe for them to do. Essentially, when she is not a rather compassionate schoolteacher, she prowls seedy disco clubs at the nighttime for casual encounters.

It seems strange, and perhaps telling, for me to say that as a woman watching this film over 30 years after its release, there was still something pleasurable about watching Keaton swagger around, for all intensive purposes, like a man. (Though her hysterical laughter at the sight of a condom seems rather more alien, to say that not long after 1977 she certainly wouldn't have been laughing.) But of course - of course - there are consequences. There always must be consequences for this kind of behaviour - reasons and motivations, too, but most definitely consequences. A woman must never exist in the dangerous margin of sexuality where neither slapdash Freudian analytics explain her nor some sort of cautionary punishment await her.

The ending came as such a shock, then, that I found myself angrily trying to work out how I hadn't seen it coming all along. The gut-twisting, seedy ending serves as reactionary, homophobic, and sexist. At its heart, Looking for Mr. Goodbar has a deeply moral conservative stance. One might argue that it was based on a true story, and that in crime-ridden 70's New York, a wildly promiscuous young woman might easily have fallen into the wrong arms. While that may be true, Goodbar presents a stereotypical world - when women join the sexual revolution, dubiously following the steps of men, they must suffer the gravest of consequences.


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