THE LONELY GUY, dumped into theaters in January,1984, crept into fittingly lonely 104th place that year, a piddling $5,718,573 gross indicating fans of Steve Martin were picky about what sort of vehicle they wanted to see him in. He had a slapstick hit later that year with Lily Tomlin in All Of Me, but this slight 90-minute goofoff with Charles Grodin, more like a series of sketches than a plot, failed. It’s scattershot, to be sure, and runs out of steam before it’s over, but there are some good deadpan chuckles from the various humilating situations and particularly in Martin’s interplay with the wonderfully dejected Grodin.
“I mean, this is really getting drastic. I don’t have anything in my place, I just left with a suitcase. I lost my comb. This morning, I had to brush my hair with my toothbrush. I mean, I cleaned it out really good so I feel more comfortable, but it takes about twenty minutes. Does it look okay?“
Looking for love in New York City is a losing proposition for affable but clue-absent greeting card writer ‘Larry Hubbard’ (Martin), cast adrift into a hope-battering concrete sea filled with beautiful porpoises uninterested in shy flounders or wiggling guppies, not when there are powerful sharks and sleek barracudas on the cruise. Larry gets misery lessons from veteran Lonely Guy ‘Warren’ (Grodin), whose idea of contact is the ferns in his apartment. Just when things seem bleakest and the Brooklyn Bridge beckons, Larry writes “A Guide For The Lonely Guy”: fame insures he has to beat back the school of Playmates with an oar.
Martin and Grodin play the shtick to a tee, with a good 30% of their performances improvised. They also had a viable support team behind the gags. Inspired by Bruce Jay Friedman’s 1978 book “The Lonely Guy’s Book of Life“, Ed.Weinberger and Stan Daniels, veterans of TV comedies like Taxi and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, wrote the script, from an adaptation by Neil Simon. Arthur Hiller directed. There are cameos from then-contemporary TV personalities, kidding their public image—Dr.Joyce Brothers, Merv Griffin and Loni Anderson. The supporting cast fields Judith Ivey, Steve Lawrence (having a ball), Robyn Douglass, Julie K. Payne, twins Candi & Randi Brough and Jenny Gago.
I remember seeing this with my buddy Jay, in a theater that had maybe six people in the audience. We thought it was pretty funny, fairly spot-on to our shared predicament at the time, both of us being frustratingly single, again. While our romantic-meets-cynic grasp that life in the pitiless dating jungle made little sense served to keep us semi-sane, it was at least some comfort to know we weren’t alone. Recalling our you-borrow-the-shirt stint as roommates, I don’t recall us owning any ferns. My pal Jay—quickest wit I’ve ever known—is sadly no longer with us, and I’m guessing is happily no longer lonely. Me? I’m Ed McMahon….