Picks and Pans Review: Only When I Laugh

updated 11/02/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/02/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST

Neil Simon on screen can run hot (The Goodbye Girl) or cold (Seems Like Old Times), but with this astonishingly sharp rewrite of his 1970 Broadway flop, The Gingerbread Lady, the king of one-liners sizzles. Out of some achingly familiar plot threads—alcoholic actress rehabilitates and renews her relationship with daughter—Simon has crafted his finest, most deeply felt film to date. As the self-described "38-year-old wino," Marsha Mason (Mrs. Simon) gives nepotism a good name. Her performance has sensitivity, sass and a disarming lack of sentimentality. Kristy McNichol is also first-rate as the kid, but Joan Hackett is a particular joy as a rich, killingly chic neurotic who weighs herself in ounces and "dresses for depression." Occasionally Simon falls into his joke-for-joke's-sake pattern. But the actors, with the help of TV director Glenn Jordan in a remarkably nuanced film debut, always restore the emotional balance. The result is superior Simon, with the slickness happily replaced by heart. (R)

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