Initially, it seems as if screenwriter Ron Peer and director Roland Joffé have concocted Goodbye Lover as a tongue-in-cheek film noir set in a world where image is everything. The femme fatale, Sandra Dunmore (Patricia Arquette), memorizes self-improvement tapes and sells high-end real estate while her brother-in-law and enthusiastic lover, Ben (Don Johnson), is a spin doctor extraordinaire.
Refusing to put on a happy face is the perfect patsy, cynical alcoholic Jake Dunmore (Dermot Mulroney). Jake elicits sympathy from goody-two-shoes colleague, Peggy Blane (Mary-Louise Parker), whose crush on Ben ultimately upsets the fragile balance of deceit. But just as an untimely death brings in police detectives Pompano (Ellen DeGeneres) and Rollins (Ray McKinnon), Goodbye Lover derails.
It’s expected in a film noir that a few characters will turn out to be duplicitous, but in Peer’s script – co-written by Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow – this happens so often that it’s hard keeping everyone straight. Instead of having the desired effect – exposing the rotten reality beneath all the masks – the rapid succession of character reversals just shows how flashy gimmicks stand in for fresh ideas.
Joffé, whose résumé ranges from the distinguished (The Killing Fields) to the reviled (The Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore), creates a lovely, glossy surface in Goodbye Lover and settles for that. Fittingly, for a movie all about facades, the real stars are cinematographer Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential) and costume designer Theadora Van Runkle (Bonnie and Clyde), who supplies the best collection of female footwear since Bound.
In this bloodless film about crimes of passion, the strongest chemistry is between the mismatched police detectives. Cutting comments from an ultra-cynical Ellen DeGeneres bounce off the guileless Ray McKinnon with a comic spark that’s missing from the rest of Goodbye Lover, which doesn’t offer its talented cast much to do beyond acting petty while looking pretty.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].