Goodbye Lover


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This project was inspired by the same letter which inspired Exit to Eden:

"I would like your opinion of Goodbye Lover (1998). To my way of thinking, this is similar to Exit to Eden and just as frustrating to watch. If I didn't know better, I would swear both of these movies had directorial changes during the filming. Goodbye Lover features Patricia Arquette, looking outstanding, and Mary Louise Parker, looking equally appetizing, in an erotic thriller that was living up to its category. Then, once again, in the middle of the movie, two moron cops enter the picture and from then on it's a dumb and dumber comedy. I'm not sure that erotic thriller and comedy ever go together, but they sure don't in this movie. This movie was working very nicely as an erotic thriller, and it may be Patricia Arquette's juiciest role to date, but what happened to it later is criminal.  If you haven't seen it, the first half is well worth the time/rental."

I'm not sure I agree with you on this one. I don't think the film had just turned to comedy when the cops showed up. It started out silly, with the offbeat sex scene between Arquette and Don Johnson at the church organ, followed by Dermot Mulroney's crazy string of obscene comments about a high-profile client of his posh firm, enhanced by Patricia Arquette's nutty wardrobe and her obsession with The Sound of Music. It seems to me that this was an idea that just didn't quite work right. It was supposed to function simultaneously as an erotic thriller and a parody of erotic thrillers, kind of Basic Instinct and Fatal Instinct rolled into one. That's not an unworkable concept. After all, Shane Black basically took the same kind of idea and made it into a brilliantly funny noir in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is a great story, a good comedy, and a sexy movie all rolled into one. But it takes a genius to pull it off. Shane Black is. The writers of Goodbye Lover are not.

I think you've already hit on two of the three main problems with the film in your letter.

(1) Too little erotica. With a little more sex and nudity, it might have made for a good little piece of erotica, but it cheated in that department. There is basically nothing but cleavage, albeit very impressive cleavage, from Arquette; and there's only a few quick peeks at Mary-Louise Parker.

(2) Too much "clown suit" comedy. I enjoyed the fact that the film took the basic thriller plot seriously even while spoofing it but I also think, as you pointed out in your letter, that it should have been a hair more serious about the police investigation. The film really could have benefited from a little less goofing around by the cops. Some suspension of disbelief is necessary in a comedy, but the Mormon cop was a bit over-the-top and stretched my credulity too much, so that whenever he was pontificating about Jesus or something, I suddenly felt that I had been jerked out of a reality-based universe and dropped into a Rob Schneider movie, particularly at the end when he broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience directly.

Both of those points are valid. I think, though, that you've missed the main reason why this film doesn't quite work. The four main characters are all, without exception, completely amoral and impossible to identify with. The fifth and sixth characters are a supercilious Mormon cop and Don Johnson. 'Nuff said. While Gay Perry and the Robert Downey character provided the audience with an moral and emotional anchor in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, there are no characters for us to like in Goodbye Lover. How cold is your movie when the most likable part is played by Don Johnson? The result of this situation is that the audience is left uninvolved in the tricky one-upmanship and has no emotional stake in the double-crosses. We are essentially left watching a WWE match between bad guys.

Having made those points, I think the film has a lot of good points as well. The Patricia Arquette character is offbeat and imaginatively developed; some of the plot twists are interesting and unexpected; and the photography is absolutely outstanding. The sex scenes are creatively filmed, and in some respects I like very much where the director and DP chose to place the camera in these scenes. While I'm praising the cinematography, I should also mention that I loved the vertiginous 3/4 overhead angles of the penthouse conference room. Of course, the photography ought to be good. The cinematographer was two-time Oscar nominee Dante Spinotti, who has lensed a few films you may have heard of:

  1. (8.40) - L.A. Confidential (1997)
  2. (8.00) - Heat (1995)
  3. (7.90) - The Insider (1999)
  4. (7.60) - The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
  5. (7.50) - Wonder Boys (2000)
  6. (7.30) - Red Dragon (2002)
  7. (7.10) - X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
  8. (7.10) - Manhunter (1986)
  9. (6.30) - Crimes of the Heart (1986)
  10. (6.30) - Frankie and Johnny (1991)
  11. (6.30) - The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
  12. (6.20) - Nell (1994)

In fact, Spinotti is so good that it's kinda surprising that he agreed to do Goodbye Lover. He was nominated for Oscars for The Insider and L.A. Confidential, and could have been for Nell and Last of the Mohicans as well. (He WON the cinematography BAFTA for Mohicans, but Oscar passed him over completely.) I had forgotten that he did both versions of Manhunter (Red Dragon is a remake.) They are both filmed beautifully, but the photographic approach is as different as the two directors who helmed the projects.

On balance, I think Goodbye Lover has enough positives that it can fairly be described as a watchable movie, albeit a disappointing one that could have been so much better. While it failed as a theatrical release with a gross below $2 million, it was far too slick to be a straight-to-vid, and it does pass my two litmus tests for popcorn movies on DVD: (1) it never moved me to reach for the fast forward button; (2) it had the good sense to knock off Don Johnson early.

Unfortunately it took much too long to get rid of Dermot Mulroney. And it never got rid of Ellen Degeneres at all.



* widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

* this disc also includes a full-screen version of the film






2.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
1 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
27 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)


5.5 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. It grossed only two million dollars in a maximum of 865 theaters. It was considered a financial loser based on its $20 million budget.


  • Mary-Louise Parker showed her bum and one breast.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a: