Today we reminisce about
Seems Like Old Times (1980)
Directed by Jay Sandrich
Starring: Goldie Hawn, Chevy Chase, Charles Grodin
4 July 1927 – 26 August 2018
One of the things that I have always loved about Neil Simon’s style is that he had an incredible sense of humour which he incorporated into every single screenplay. It was neither overly vulgar nor too discreet, often poking fun at the little everyday things that get on our nerves. Nothing went unnoticed to Neil, much to our delight. I also find it quite remarkable that he could affront difficult subjects like suicide and divorce and to show their significance all the while remaining light-hearted. Neil’s goal was to amuse his audience, not to insult or isolate them. This is likely a large part as to why he achieved as much success as he did.
Nicholas “Nick” Gardenia (Chase) is a writer working on a novel in a remote bungalow he is renting in Big Sur, California, when he is kidnapped at random by two men. Known criminals who have busted out of jail, they hope to exploit his innocent looks and good citizen demeanour to rob a bank in nearby Carmel. The robbery goes as planned and much to Nick’s dismay, his face is captured by a camera while trying to leave. To add insult to injury, Nick is pushed out of a vehicle going at full speed, injuring him and leaving him in the middle of nowhere. Over the course of 3 days, he manages to make it to Los Angeles so to visit the house of his ex-wife, Glenda (Hawn).
A public defender, Glenda is married to fellow attorney and Los Angeles District Attorney Ira Parks (Grodin) who is the leading candidate to become state Attorney General. It just so happens that if Ira is given the job, his first case will be to prosecute Nick. Being the charitable person that she is, Glenda believes that he is innocent and wishes to defend him. She meets with Nick several times in secret and even allows him to stay in a guest room above the garage, never letting Ira know where he is. There are even times when Nick is hiding in the same room as Glenda and Ira with hilarious results to ensue. Ira is at first patient with his wife but gradually starts losing his cool after his car is stolen on multiple occasions and when he starts suspecting that Glenda may still have unresolved romantic feelings for Nick.
Will Nick eventually give himself up to the police? Do Glenda and Nick still love one another and, if so, where does this leave Ira? Are the real criminals ever caught?
Seems like so many questions!
Background & Thoughts
I was first introduced to Neil in my youth and became familiar with his other words as I got older. A film that has remained at the top of my list since then is Seems Like Old Times, a pure – almost feelgood – comedy that boasts a terrific cast. 38 years since its initial release, the film has also become a timepiece that brings you right back to the sights, sounds and fashions of the period. Inspired by the 1942 George Stevens-directed film The Talk of the Town, Neil was charmed by its slapstick comedy style and semi-dramatic storyline involving a love triangle. Also, unlike all of his other productions, Seems Like Old Times was not based on Neil’s personal life whatsoever so he created it as a work of fiction.
This specific type of comedy was well-suited to both Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn who had great timing as well as the capacity to improvise on a whim. Ironically, both rose to fame working for NBC. Chase was one of Saturday Night Live’s original players, starting on the show in 1975 and leaving a year and a half after that. Despite his relatively short run, he became a memorable figure who was known for his physical comedy and as well as his extreme, sometimes condescending, sarcasm. Hawn made a name for herself on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In usually playing a ditzy blonde who gave ridiculous weather reports (amongst other things) or danced scantily clad in a bikini with 1960’s-inspired paint on her body. By 1969, she had become on Oscar winner and continued on a successful film career. In 1978, Chase and Hawn were teamed up on the comedy/mystery film Foul Play and showed their wonderful chemistry together. Not only were they funny but they also made a beautiful romantic duo. It was with great joy that they were cast together two years later for Seems Like Old Times.
Playing Nick required Chase to be very corporal as the character was constantly on-the-run and in-hiding. That is a large part of the joke because the near misses with Ira and the authorities are running gags until the very end of the film. His misfortune is the butt of many wisecracks, such as him being famished after a 3-day journey and only being able to eat stale candy that he paid for but ending up recuperating at gunpoint. When he arrives at Glenda and Ira’s place, the only thing he is able to eat after she unsuccessfully tries to smuggle him food are dog biscuits. As the film progresses, he manages to get caught in a garden hose, fall violently down a flight of stairs, constantly trip-up, and get a black eye after being punched by Ira. It is rather remarkable that he even makes it in one piece! One thing that I really like about his character is that he is able to relate to almost every other person with whom he comes in contact, making these exchanges all the more fruitful. He and Glenda’s “chauffeur” Chester have some of the most memorable moments together. The only person that Nick cannot seem to please in any way, shape or form is Ira, who seemingly detests him with every bone in his body.
A rare moment of empathy that Ira has for Nick in an exchange with his colleague, Benson … I mean, Fred:
Didn’t he spend two years in a Mexican prison?”
“A 3 ½ minute trial. You don’t call that justice.”
Hawn simply radiated as Glenda and she was able to keep up with Chase’s comedic pace with no difficulty whatsoever. This is one of the reasons that Neil Simon was so proud of her performance because she fulfilled his vision of Glenda as Chase had done for Nick. Glenda does not have a great deal of authority which makes it so that she had a lot of freeloaders in her life: the Native American boys that keep getting into trouble, Chester, the six stray dogs that she had taken in (not to mention all the other animals) and, of course, there’s Nick. He comes to her knowing that she will genuinely try to help him but also to try and push his way back into her life. She does not redeem herself of this weakness in the end, especially when you consider the semi-open nature of the closing scene, but she remains a really enjoyable character all the same.
The technical husband yet designated third wheel to the Chase/Hawn pairing is Charles Grodin, not really known for his comedic skills but who really does a great job as Ira. He appears straight-laced and has an overall serious nature although there are moments when he can pull out a one-liner that is hilarious. It would have been interesting to have the backstory on how Ira and Glenda met because they do seem rather mismatched as a couple. He loathes her love of animals and hates all the dog hair around the place, not to mention Glenda’s penchant for gardening. Though he does not deprive her of expressing herself, he makes it clear that he does not approve of these things. I suppose that is why the possibility of she and Nick getting back together at some point works. She seems more relaxed with Nick and they would indeed make fireworks together. At the same time, you can only respect that Ira wants to give Glenda a decent home and that he shares his successes with her. The toughest thing about this film is deciding between Nick and Ira. 🙂
The Bottom Line
Seems Like Old Times is a quintessential Neil Simon comedy that is as enjoyable to watch as it is to reminisce about. You will feel right at home in the Park’s residence, getting to know their maid Aurora and enjoying her superb cooking. She may even serve her signature dish, Chicken Pepperoni. If you have not seen this film already and you really like Neil Simon’s style, you should not wait any further to check this off your list.