January 19, 2004 12:00 PM


TNT (Fri., Jan. 16, 8 p.m. ET)

Let’s say you’re in the mood for a love story with snappy Neil Simon dialogue. But the local video store doesn’t have The Goodbye Girl, the 1977 film starring Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason, and your menu of television channels doesn’t include Turner Classic Movies, which shows the original Goodbye Girl Jan. 15 at 10 p.m. For you, this TNT remake is a must-see. For others it’s, well, optional.

Beyond updating a few cultural references, allowing for the invention of the cell phone and making some mild vulgarity even milder, Simon has changed hardly anything in this tale of clashing roommates, which is basically The Odd Couple with sex. Elliot (now played by Jeff Daniels) is a Chicago actor who arrives in New York City and finds that his sublet apartment is stubbornly occupied by the leaseholder’s dumped girlfriend, Paula (Everybody Loves Raymond’s Patricia Heaton), and her 10-year-old daughter Lucy (Hallie Kate Eisenberg). Elliot and Paula fight a lot, but Lucy thinks the new guy’s kind of cute, and eventually her mom agrees.

Heaton’s Paula seems tougher and a touch more hostile than Mason’s, while Daniels is less intense and abrasive than Dreyfuss was in his Oscar-winning performance. This version will have some viewers wondering why it takes Paula so long to give Elliot a break and concede that he might be more than another love-’em-and-leave-’em heel. Still, both characters are likable and we root for them to clear away the misunderstandings that block the path to romance.

The main problem with this Goodbye Girl is that Simon and director Richard Benjamin chose not to rework the secondary plotline involving Elliot’s disastrous Off-Off-Broadway performance as a swishy Richard III. The “Elizabethan fruit fly” joke was cheap in ’77, and it hasn’t improved with age.

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