Had I heard that Looking for Mr. Goodbar wasn’t very good or that it was just dated? For some reason, I remembered it carrying a certain scattered and hokey reputation that the film proved wrong when I caught up to it.
The feminist themes of the film may be more eloquently discussed today since the film is closer to the women’s liberation movement’s infancy, but it’s passionate observations still connect to our contemporary point of view. Even if it seems passe to have a film hinge on a woman’s sexual liberation, that’s only a sense of contemporary entitlement convincing you that women don’t have it as bad as they always have. The conversation may have evolved, refined, and gained nuance, but we’re still fighting for the same old crap.
As directed by Richard Brooks, Goodbar is a bit of a meandering experience, wading through as much of the sociopolitical that it can include organically in the script. The film is feeling its way through the issues as much as it is with Theresa’s state of being. Diane Keaton playing Theresa in the same year as her more famous Annie Hall goes through her own self-effacing transformation is fascinating, here she gives a more prickly performance of contradictions and simmering sexuality. Even she is kind of finding the film and performance as it goes along, absorbing more information and texture as Theresa becomes more self-actualized and aware.
The final murder therefore becomes all more the shocking in its intrusiveness of the established rhythms – aside from the obvious brutality, its as if the film and Theresa are robbed of giving their own closures.
The visual grime of most of the film is a bit of a fake out, with William A. Fraker’s work just as searching as Brooks approach. There is a seediness (and blandness) to the expositional scenes that is deceived by a charged sensuality once sexual expression comes into play. The frames are often luridly dark, the light seeping through becoming like a whispered flirtation. It’s like the frame is being turned on as well.
Theresa’s daydreaming also provide fleeting subversions of our assumptions of sleeziness. She sees herself in the role of whore and chaste icon, discovering who she is and isn’t and who she is being told to be – society expects her to fulfill all of the above. The film finds some wit in poking the holes in that facade, from winks at herself on the street to dreamytime window longings to the Best Shot.
America the Brave, the Successful, the Chaste. There is more than one version of the perfect woman that the patriarchy sells us, but they’re all just as laughable and insidious as the housewife cliche.
More of Hit Me With Your Best Shot!