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The Lonely Guy Review

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by Chris McEneany Aug 1, 2005

    The Lonely Guy Review
    “A cute dog attracts women. But not to you ... to himself.”

    Adapted by the acclaimed Neil Simon from Bruce Jay Friedman's book “The Lonely Guy's Book Of Life”, The Lonely Guy's popularity will depend solely upon whether or not you are a fan of Steve Martin. I love the wild 'n' crazy guy, though, so I found this early Martin vehicle (from 1983) quite enjoyable, if somewhat annoyingly slight and irreverent. With Martin playing greetings card writer and certified Lonely Guy, Larry Hubbard, the scene is set for a fantastical parable about life on your own in the Big Apple, with plentiful visual comedy, anarchic banter and the chic concept-comedy ethic of the era played big and broad. In other words, whilst it tries to veil its satire behind slapstick and often surreal escapades (the suicide bridge where seemingly every lonely guy will end up at some point, or other, and usually en masse, like lemmings), it likes to have to have its cake and eat it, too, by trying to make a few societal points along the way. Friedman's book was a hokey guide to un-attached survival in a consumer, image-conscious world of go-getters and, as such, the film utilises Martin to narrate his own hilarious, and painful, odyssey of lonely denial, fractured male-bonding, society's snobbish attitude to those less popular and the simple equation of sneezing leading to an orgasm. None of the above is meant to put you off, however. This is a Steve Martin film, after all.

    “I think what I'm looking for is more of a ... real relationship.”

    “Oh, that's great, Larry. But I just came here to get laid.”

    Finding himself dumped by his sex-mad girlfriend, Danielle, who prefers to have whole dance troupes in bed to his insipid lovemaking, Hubbard meets Grodin's comically wretched Warren, who attempts to teach him the ways of successful loneliness - buy yourself a fern and watch the ballgame with it, fill your apartment with life-size cardboard cut-outs and then you can mingle with them at your own swish parties and, as low as it seems, act as standby company for girls until their late lovers arrive. The film paints a satirical picture of an entire sub-culture built up around the sole male, with shops that cater especially for them, spotlights that illuminate them when they are dining alone in a restaurant and fake sweat-in-a-can to enhance credibility when out jogging to meet keep-fit females. Hubbard's attempts to meet girls are inevitably fraught with disaster - he can't even keep a dog as a companion for more than a day. His little black book has only one number in it and the only woman who does take an interest in him, falls so heavily for him that she believes she cannot stay with him, as such happiness can only end in grief. Iris, played beneath the most hideously bedraggled perm, by Judith Ivey, is obviously the one for Larry, but their relationship will go through all sorts of mishaps and quandaries throughout the course of the movie, ensuring that Martin can employ his serious face a couple of times and, happily, showboat his manic side with typically zany abandon. Yep, it all boils down to that old cliché of how will our hero win the girl of his dreams?

    “We can go to motels and listen to other people having sex!”

    Although nowhere near as funny as The Jerk, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid or, my personal goofy favourite (and a real guilty pleasure) The Man With Two Brains, The Lonely Guy represents all that we know and love about Harrison Ford's grey-topped clone before he saddled himself with the sad dross of later years. Check out the terrific speed-talk battle between him and his landlady (“I'm a man!”), the superb smell-the-real-sweat session, and the bizarre rooftop serenade from all the lonely guys calling out to their lost loved ones for vintage Martin-madness. The quick-fire humour is fun and engaging and the poignancy about suicide is dealt with in all the seriousness of a whoopee-cushion. A cheerfully episodic nature means that no scene ever outstays its welcome and Grodin (always underrated) is on fine form as the seriously professional loner. His speech about waking up in the morning and then realising who he is, all over again, is a sad, but amusing footnote to his ability to play humour in deadpan reserve. Likewise, his suicide bid and subsequent appeal for reasons not to do it hits an emotional chord for a few tantalising seconds before the face cracks and he spins the deal around on a dime. The screenplay is never very intelligent, but at least the performers make some attempt to add a few layers to their characters. “I could never, ever hurt you,” implores Larry with heartfelt sentiment to his dream-girl, Iris, just before accidentally scalding her with hot coffee. Typical of a film that balances sadness with mirth in almost every single scene. Mind you, the only tears you'll shed will be those of laughter.

    Good fun, but slight and unlikely to have you spinning the disc for instant replay of comic highlights. But certainly a must for Steve Martin completists.