The title may be a bit misleading, but “Bye Bye, Love” is a contemporary saga of divorced dads that’s funny and poignant, with the good-natured effort and its affable cast elevating a sometime schematic story. When it hits home, it connects with precision and should translate into a title with strong playability and solid mid-range returns in an otherwise blah season.
Core trio of execs is composed of Dave (Matthew Modine), Vic (Randy Quaid) and Donny (Paul Reiser). Dave has a decent, though sometimes tense, relationship with his former wife. He suffers painlessly from the Peter Pan principle, maintaining both a new relationship and a roving eye. Donny still carries a torch for his ex-wife, and Vic would like to torch his onetime significant other and her current live-in boyfriend.
Together they represent a reasonable body of experience, bound by such commonalities as shared legal custody of children, new liaisons and unfinished personal business from past unions.
The Gary Goldberg-Brad Hall screenplay is clever without being too clever; its essence is comedy derived from very real situations. And the character-driven nature of the material falters only when the writers insist on making an obvious point much in the manner of a television sitcom.
Unfolding in episodes, the story finally jells during one fateful night. It’s the evening that Dave’s new girlfriend, Kim (Maria Pitillo), decides to win over his children, Donny attempts to bridge previously irreconcilable differences with his daughter, Emma (Eliza Dushku), and Vic goes on a blind date with Lucille (Janeane Garofalo).
While the situations are more seemingly banal than vintage Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder, “Bye Bye, Love” has the soul of a screwball comedy. Director Sam Weisman’s firm grasp on the script’s verities allows for excursions into the bizarre and near-preposterous that bolster rather than detract from pic’s themes. It is at once a painfully real and side- splitting experience.
Director Weisman has the facility to bring out the best in gifted performers who have not quite connected with bigscreen material or audiences until now. That’s certainly the case for Modine and Reiser, with the latter giving a human dimension to what might have been an obvious, comic role.
A few of the subplots, such as the tale of a senior (the late Ed Flanders) and a young displaced man (Johnny Whitworth), seem attenuated. Considerably more successful is the use of an annoying phone-in therapist (played with gusto by Rob Reiner) as counterpoint to the characters’ plight. And the comic highlight is Quaid’s blind date. The chemistry between the actor and Garofalo is delightful and is a reminder of Quaid’s exceptional diversity.
One can only quibble about the picture’s harsh, over-bright look, which is decidedly more in keeping with a small-screen outing.
“Bye Bye, Love” is a real tonic, an honest, mature comedy.