Cult Movie Essentials

Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)

Based on Judith Rossner’s best-selling novel of the same name, Looking for Mr. Goodbar was written and directed by Richard Brooks and starred Diane Keaton, Tuesday Weld, Tom Berenger, Levar Burton, William Atherton, and Richard Gere. The novel and the film were inspired by the 1973 murder of New York City schoolteacher Roseann Quinn.

It should be noted that author Judith Rossner “detested” the movie although she did have high praised Diane Keaton’s performance as Theresa Dunn.

The film is set in the 1970’s was seen as present day at the time of its release. As the film opens we meet Theresa Dunn (Diane Keaton), a young Irish-American teacher searching for excitement outside her ordered life. While in college, Theresa lives with her repressive Polish-Irish Catholic parents, and suffers from severe body image issues following a childhood surgery for scoliosis that left a large scar on her back. Theresa later finds out that her scoliosis is congenital and that her aunt had the same condition and committed suicide; as a result, Theresa is reluctant to have children of her own. Meanwhile, her beautiful “perfect” older sister, Katherine (Tuesday Weld), has left her husband and embarked on a wild lifestyle involving multiple affairs, a secret abortion, recreational drug use, and a short-lived marriage to a Jewish man. This lifestyle intrigues Theresa.

Theresa finds first love and loses her virginity with her much older, married college professor Martin (Alan Feinstein), who ends the affair just before her graduation, leaving Theresa feeling used and lonely.

Following graduation and a broken heart, Theresa finds a job teaching deaf children, and proves to be a gifted and caring teacher. With Katherine’s encouragement, she moves out of her parents’ home into her own apartment in the city.

Theresa starts to hit the bars late at night and go clubbing and soon picks up men for one-night stands as a way of getting excitement and sexual fulfillment without commitment, always insisting that the men leave before morning.

She soon has an encounter with a street hustler named Tony (Richard Gere) which develops into a friends with benefits relationship with the two regularly meeting for increasingly rough and dangerous sex, involving a switchblade knife and drugs. At one point he gives her a Quaalude pill which causes her to oversleep and arrive very late for work the next day, angering her employer and students.

As the relationship develops Tony becomes controlling and abusive, and Theresa breaks up with him. He then stalks and harasses her at the school where she works and makes threatening phone calls to her at night.

Through her job, Theresa also meets and dates an Irish-American welfare caseworker named James (William Atherton). Her parents approve of the responsible James, seeing him as a potential husband for Theresa. However, they do not have sex and James wants a traditional courtship and monogamous relationship, which Theresa sees as stifling her freedom. Although James initially seems nice, over time he appears to become as controlling and disrespectful of Theresa as Tony was.

After imagining what could happen if Tony were to call the police, Theresa gathers up all the drugs in her apartment and flushes them down the toilet.

With the new year approaching, Theresa resolves to leave her bar crawling, clubbing and drug use behind and take control of her life. Seeking one final hookup on New Year’s Eve…

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