Review: ‘Only When I Laugh’

Patrons expecting a skin-deep laughfest may be surprised at the unusually sombre shadows and heavy dramatics that make their way into this tale (a reworking of Neil Simon's short-lived legit play, The Gingerbread Lady), though abundant humor still shines through.

Patrons expecting a skin-deep laughfest may be surprised at the unusually sombre shadows and heavy dramatics that make their way into this tale (a reworking of Neil Simon’s short-lived legit play, The Gingerbread Lady), though abundant humor still shines through.

Marsha Mason delivers a bravura performance as the film’s centerpiece, a divorced actress who returns from a three-month drying out session at an alcoholic clinic to face a revitalized career both on the legit boards and as a mother to her long-estranged, 17-year-old daughter, well-played here by Kristy McNichol.

Core of the film is McNichol’s attempt to reestablish a fulltime relationship with her mother, despite latter’s previously boozy neglect and frequent social embarrassment. Storyline details Mason’s juggling of those demands, along with the potential for renewed romance and career success (with former lover David Dukes, who’s written their stormy affair into a strong Broadway vehicle for her).

The one-on-one encounters between Mason and McNichol, ranging from sisterly tomfoolery to intense emotional battling, are particularly strong. Their final scene of family rapprochement is not unrealistically rosy.

1981: Nominations: Best Actress (Marsha Mason), Supp. Actor (James Coco), Supp. Actress (Joan Hackett)

Only When I Laugh

Production

Columbia. Director Glenn Jordan; Producer Roger M. Rothstein, Neil Simon; Screenplay Neil Simon; Camera David M. Walsh; Editor John Wright; Music David Shire; Art Director Albert Brenner

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1981. Running time: 120 MIN.

With

Marsha Mason Kristy McNichol James Coco Joan Hackett David Dukes Kevin Bacon
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