Fairy floss with minimal saccharine


Bye Bye Love
Directed by Sam Weisman
Starring Matthew Modine, Randy Quaid and Paul Reiser
Reviewed by Barry Healy

Bye Bye Love could be the Four Weddings and a Funeral of 1995 — a well-played comedy piece that mixes poignancy about modern mating problems with some very good gags. Here the personal problems centre on one of the most prickly of contemporary issues: shared custody of children among divorced couples. The gags spring out of everything from dogs to children to the blind date from hell.

The film is built on the template of American Graffiti: 48 hours in the lives of a group of male friends in middle America, in this case middle-aged, as they negotiate the mysteries of their lives. Instead of the Vietnam War, they are confronting the meaning of single fatherhood.

About a third of the film is set in a McDonald's. Not because of the symbolic linking of fast food and US marriage, but because of a genuine phenomenon in the US: McDonald's has become the preferred neutral territory, a "no battle zone" where divorced parents exchange their children for the weekends. McDonald's is reported to have even erected special bulletin boards for self-help and support groups for parents.

The three male leads, Matthew Mondine, Randy Quaid and Paul Reiser, quite effortlessly play the gag lines off each other as they set the film's gentle pace. At times nearly every third sentence is a gag — not quite uproarious, but just right for softening you up for the tougher emotions to come.

The younger support actors — Johnny Whitworth, Amber Benson and particularly Eliza Dushku — who fulfil the "troubled teenagers" sub-plot, are very accomplished. In fact, the quality of acting throughout the cast is seamlessly good.

As with American Graffiti, the soundtrack features songs that signify US cultural motifs. Some old Everly Brothers songs, "Bye Bye Love" and "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)", are used for maximum emotional impact. The question the viewer is presented with is: how can people who have been raised on the expectations contained in these songs cope with the realities of their lives?

Not that you are left pondering the deep and meaningfuls for too long — almost every difficult scene pays off with a delightful gag. The script is beautifully crafted and balanced — the few dollops of saccharine slip by painlessly. And, what's this? A Hollywood movie that actually hits pathos, not bathos? A wonder, indeed!

It would be a churlish critic who would point out that this is a USA overwhelmingly inhabited by very well-off white people. Or that everyone's problems get very neatly resolved within a ridiculous time frame. Or that none of the characters have faults, merely rough edges, and that everyone is lovable underneath.

Sure, this is fairy floss land, but it's worth visiting. You will laugh and you will cry and you won't feel ripped off. Bye Bye Love is sure to do good box office, and then go mega on video as people return for another dose.

And if it should lead to a revival of popularity for the Everly Brothers, so much the better.