1977 was a good year for Diane Keaton. Not only did she star in Woody Allen's Annie Hall and win an Academy Award for Best Actress, she starred in Looking For Mr. Goodbar, which might be polar opposites. Annie Hall was eccentric and effervescent, but her character in Looking For Mr. Goodbar, Theresa Dunn, is a reserved woman hiding a dark secret. Theresa is in search of Mr. Goodbar, the perfect man, but she is too easily seduced by sex. The film was directed by Richard Brooks, whose best known film may be his adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. Brooks adapted the film from a 1975 novel by Judith Rossner. Looking For Mr. Goodbar is based on the events surrounding the brutal murder of Roseann Quinn. The film is relies heavily on Diane Keaton's performance and it was a welcome change for the actress, whose earlier credits were mostly comedies, save for her small roles in The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather, Part II (1974). She is marvelous in the film and allows her inner turmoil to be felt on screen. The film also features Richard Gere and Tuesday Weld in great supporting performances. Looking For Mr. Goodbar does suffer from some questionable directing choices and awkward pacing, but it is exceptionally well acted and reminds us how gifted Diane Keaton is as an actress.
During the day Theresa Dunn is a dedicated school teacher. She teaches a small class of deaf students and works tirelessly to help them learn. This is especially evident through her interactions with a student named Amy, whose family life makes it more difficult for her to succeed. Theresa's own family life is complicated. Her father (Richard Kelly) belittles her and believes that her sister, Katherine (Tuesday Weld), is the perfect daughter. But it is Therersa who helps Katherine conceal her actions from her parents. Theresa is searching for her perfect man, her own Mr. Goodbar, but this search only leads to degrading situations with a multiple of men. She leads a secret life at night where she goes to bars and picks up random men. The film depicts New York City in the 1970s with its single bars and one night stands. She eventually meets Tony (Richard Gere), a handsome and exciting young man that she brings home and lets into her life. Tony is unstable and violent and even shows up outside Theresa's school one afternoon. Theresa is already in a downward spiral and while during the day she may feel in control of her life, her nighttime actions will eventually put her life in danger.
There is a real emotional honesty in Diane Keaton's performance that makes Looking For Mr. Goodbar a powerful film. I must also commend the cinematographer who helps keep the film feel raw and rough. There are dream sequences in the film that feel misplaced. I understand their importance but I found that their placement affected the film's pacing and cohesiveness. I was very bothered by the end of the film. If Richard Brooks intended for it to be grotesquely violent, he missed the mark. It was done in an overly artistic way and I feel that it did not do Theresa's life or Diane Keaton's performance justice. I also wish the film had paid more attention to Theresa's relationship with Katherine. It definitely seems that Theresa's downfall (and her disastrous sexual quests) stem from her childhood and her relationship with her sister. I agree that contrasting her life during the day and at night create a dramatic atmosphere. It is already a long film, at two hours and ten minutes, but I do question Richard Brooks' intentions in respect to the screenplay and directing. Looking For Mr. Goodbar is a good film because of Diane Keaton, but I wonder if the film would still be remembered today were it not for her performance.
My rating: 3 stars out of 4.