Only When I Laugh (1981): Neil Simon’s Middling Comedy on Screen,

Playwright Neil Simon, who was married to Marsha Mason at the time, reworked completely his play, “The Gingerbread Lady,” for this film, but the result is just as mediocre, predictable and schmaltzy, albeit one with witty one-liners and moments of good acting.

Marsha Mason plays Georgia Hines, a fortysomething actress and divorcee who has regained custody of her daughter after six-year bout with alcoholism. Intimate in scale, the film arranges two friends for Georgia: a gay actor (James Coco, embodying a version of himself), who’s often unemployed, and a haughty socialite, played by the elegant Joan Hackett.

The yarn describes Georgia’s difficulties to keep sober and to cope with her daughter’s emotional demands. After their reunion, the relationship between the two femmes gets more intimate and friendly, and they begin to share everything, pains, struggles, and joys.

The focus of the narrative is on the relationship between mothers and her precocious daughter, played by Kristy McNichol. The two interact as companions or siblings rather than mother and child. There is role reversal, evidenced in one intimate scene, when the mother tells her daughter, “When I grow up, I want to be just like you.”

Oscar Nominations: 3

Actress: Marsha Mason
Supporting Actor: James Coco
Supporting Actress: Joan Hackett

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

This was the last of the four Best Actress nominations of Marsha Mason, who lost the Oscar to Katharine Hepburn in “On Golden Pond.” The winner of the Supporting Actor was John Gielgud for the comedy “Arthur,” and the Supporting Actress Maureen Stapleton for “Reds.” Sadly, both Coco and Hackett died young, he at 57 and she at 41.