Goodbye, Columbus Movie Review
Based on Philip Roth's acclaimed novella, Columbus stars Richard Benjamin as Neal Klugman, a young Jewish slacker from the Bronx who is no particular hurry to become an adult. He appears headed toward a summer of idling his hours at his library job, until he meets pretty, patrician Brenda Potemkin (Ali MacGraw) at a posh upstate New York swim club. Almost on a whim, he asks her out. She accepts. What begins out of sociological curiosity quickly becomes a relationship, much to her parents' (Jack Klugman and Nan Martin) silver spoon chagrin.
What's so refreshing about the movie is that the comedy and dramatic tension doesn't come from Neal interacting with Brenda's parents, but from how the kids' romance survives and blooms despite their own stereotypes. Neal does not expect Radcliffe girl Brenda to skinny dip, and Brenda certainly doesn't expect Neal to be an emotional pillar when she talks about her poor upbringing.
There are millions of people who will always remember MacGraw from Love Story, which is unfortunate. In Columbus, she makes Brenda into someone worth knowing -- funny, charming, and scared of what her parents might think. She exudes a guarded confidence that's perfect for the role. Benjamin is great in the other lead role. Underneath the well-worn sarcasm is an earnest charm that makes him completely sympathetic. These are characters you would want to hang out with, who you hope stay together.
Director Larry Peerce and screenwriter Arnold Schulman, who received an Academy Award nomination, also do a nice job with the little touches. Just by watching the Potemkins we realize that the family is a lot like Neal's noisy clan. They eat like pigs, and Mr. Potemkin looks out of place with his shabby clothing and coarse behavior.
Peerce and Schulman's main accomplishment is in showing the difficulties of accepting adulthood: Brenda's lunkhead brother (Michael Meyers) responds to everybody like he's still a college athlete, and Brenda and Neal's last moments together show how awkward and painful that transition is. Not every love story ends with an impromptu bus ride, as much as we'd like to think otherwise. Sometimes someone says they're sorry.