The Lonely Guy is playing this Wednesday as part of Alamo Drafthouse’s Wild and Crazy: The Films of Steve Martin series. If you live near Austin, get your tickets here!
There’s a certain kind of comedy that was only possible in the ‘80s, and you know within seconds if you’re watching one. Garish music, casual nudity, fourth-wall breaks, broad jokes without a hint of irony - these tropes and more defined a lot of the decade’s comedy. All of it is on display in The Lonely Guy.
Made by Arthur Hiller (The In-Laws) just after Steve Martin’s legendary cinematic run with Carl Reiner (not to mention Pennies From Heaven), The Lonely Guy lacks the statement of purpose most early Martin films enjoy. But it still boasts a high concept and wanton disregard for reality. Essentially a romantic comedy taking place in a wholly absurd version of our world, The Lonely Guy today plays like a predecessor to movies like They Came Together, though it avoids the self-aware parody that film employs.
Martin plays Larry Hubbard, a greeting card writer who one day discovers his girlfriend in bed with another man and finds his entire personality and life rewired to that of a Lonely Guy - that segment of the population who simply have no chance of ever finding companionship. He meets and commiserates with a fellow Lonely Guy, Warren (Charles Grodin), who shows him the ropes of his new life - mainly buy a lot of ferns, get a dog, spend most of your time about to jump off bridges along with all the other Lonely Guys.
After introducing this concept, the film begins its loose plot as Larry continuously runs into his dream girl Iris (Judith Ivey). A sympathetic observer of the Lonely Guy phenomenon, she repeatedly gives him her number, but the fate of a Lonely Guy ruins it each time. Yet fate also seems to keep bringing them together, if only to rip them apart. Meanwhile - and this bit doesn’t add up to much - Larry gets rich and famous writing a guide to being a Lonely Guy.
But the film’s not really about plot. Scenes play like sketches. The absolute best involve the relationship between Martin and Grodin. Even if they’re talking about absolutely nothing (they have a great but pointless conversation about being bald, for instance), watching the two actors quietly play off each other is a joy. Charles Grodin is a gift, and he gets a lot to do here. He doesn’t even need to speak to be funny, as we see when he silently plays chess with a robot in his apartment.
And even as the plot advances, the film never stops giving us these weird, funny looks into the life of Lonely Guys. At one point, Larry had Warren over and we see a fireplace video on his television. He excitedly asks Warren to watch his new tape, replacing the fireplace video with one of a fish tank. “Does anything happen?” Warren deadpans. “Well, you don’t have to watch the whole thing.” Larry deadpans in return.
The Lonely Guy isn’t one of the Steve Martin classics, but it’s also one that too many people overlook. Despite its ultimately romantic plot, it never puts storytelling above humor. Martin is of course great in it. And, my goodness, Charles Grodin. If you live near Austin, you can see it at the Alamo Drafthouse Wednesday. Get your tickets here!