February 03, 1986 12:00 PM

In the opening sequence of this film, Judd (Taxi) Hirsch awakens to an alarm clock that reads 4:48 a.m. He drags himself out of bed, dresses, grabs a folded newspaper and chair and treks via the New York City subway to Coney Island. Once there he makes his way to the predawn beach, where he plants the chair in the sand, unfolds the newspaper and dons a pair of sunglasses. And the audience is slyly hooked into a delightfully wry comedy. Hirsch plays a would-be sculptor who constantly complains to the New York Times that it’s miscalculating the time of sunrise and pines to quit his job in a “Santa’s Workshop.” He meets Martin Balsam, a Jewish immigrant who refers to one of his offspring as “my lawyer, the son” and yearns to reopen a boardwalk hot-dog/coconut-drink stand he’d closed 22 years before. They embark on the venture together, grudgingly aided by Pamela (The Right Stuff) Reed as Balsam’s daughter, who is leaving her husband to become an actress. The three make a wonderfully human trio, playing off and to each other’s eccentricities with warmth and humor. First-time director Herb Gardner, who also wrote the play of the same name, proves equally adept behind the pen and the camera. His one-liners never dominate the characters, and the movie, shot on location, offers a beautifully nostalgic portrait of Coney Island, the skeletons of its once-monumental attractions creating a dual sense of foreboding and serenity. The Goodbye People meets these contradictions head-on, turning a story of life and death into a witty celebration of spirit. (PG)

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