Only When I Laugh (film)

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Only When I Laugh
File:Only when i laugh.jpg
Only When I Laugh theatrical poster
Directed by Glenn Jordan
Produced by Neil Simon
Roger M. Rothstein
Written by Neil Simon (based on his play The Gingerbread Lady)
Starring Marsha Mason
Kristy McNichol
James Coco
Joan Hackett
David Dukes
Music by David Shire
Cinematography David M. Walsh
Edited by John Wright
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • September 23, 1981 (1981-09-23)
Running time
120 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $25,524,778

Only When I Laugh is a 1981 film based on Neil Simon's play The Gingerbread Lady.

The story is about an alcoholic Broadway actress who tries to stay sober while dealing with the problems of her teenaged daughter and her friends: an overly vain woman who fears the loss of her looks and a gay actor relegated to small roles in third-rate shows. Simon changed the main character's name to Georgia Hines for the film adaptation; the character was named Evy Meara in the stage version. The main character went from being a cabaret singer to a Broadway stage actress.

The film, written by Simon and directed by Glenn Jordan, stars Marsha Mason, Joan Hackett, James Coco and Kristy McNichol. It also features two short scenes with then unknowns Kevin Bacon and John Vargas. Simon's next release, I Ought to Be in Pictures, was released just six months later, and its plot was similar.

It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Marsha Mason), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (James Coco), and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Joan Hackett). It was the last film Hackett completed before her death. Only When I Laugh proved to be very successful at the box office.

Coco was also nominated for Worst Supporting Actor in Golden Raspberry Awards for the same role.


Actress Georgia Hines is being released from a rehab center where she has been undergoing treatment for alcoholism and weight gain. She returns to her Manhattan apartment to begin a new sober life with her supportive friends: Jimmy, an unemployed actor, and Toby, a sophisticated, vain socialite. She pledges to both that she will maintain her sobriety and slowly ease back into theatre work.

Less than a week after her return, Georgia's enthusiastic teenaged daughter Polly, who has been living with Georgia's ex-husband and his new wife, asks if she could move in. Georgia agrees, although not completely convinced she is ready. She and Jimmy repaint the apartment to "remove the martini stains from the wall" as a symbolic gesture towards her new life with her new daughter. Just as Polly arrives, Georgia accepts a telephone call from her ex-lover, writer David Lowe, who asks if they could meet. With a renewed sense of confidence she strongly refuses David and hangs up.

Georgia and Polly discuss the effects Georgia's alcoholism had on Polly, who shares her sadness at not being allowed to grow up with her mother. Georgia feels she can finally provide for Polly. That night, she hesitantly rings David Lowe to apologize for her curt conversation. She agrees to meet him at their old theatre district hangout.

A trim and fit Georgia, wearing borrowed clothes from Polly, meets David for dinner. He presents a script he has written, based on their turbulent, alcohol-filled relationship. It is his first script in two years and he says he's found a theatre to stage it. Now he wants Georgia to play the lead, in essence playing herself. Furious that David brought her there for business, Georgia makes a scene. But as she is about to dramatically exit, David calmly asks her to reconsider. Unable to resist his charm, Georgia laughs and takes the script home.

The reunion between Georgia and Polly is turning out to be a success. The two go shopping together, even flirting with college-aged boys who clumsily mistake Georgia and Polly for sisters. After a day of mother-daughter bonding they share their adventures with a delighted Jimmy, surprising him with a musical number Polly's been working on for a school show. The apartment is filled with music and laughter. In the middle of their performance, the phone rings. Georgia abruptly rushes to take David's call, leaving Jimmy and Polly to sit in silence on the piano bench as Georgia is heard laughing in the background.

Georgia begins work on the play. David joyfully watches from the side as Georgia shines in rehearsals. In one particularly tense scene, Georgia confuses art with life, loses her composure and must stop. David consoles her. She doesn't think she can go forward with the play because it is too painful. David, agreeing to whatever Georgia decides, nevertheless tells her that she is the only one who can do this part. Georgia is again calmed and charmed by David, who tenderly kisses her on the cheek as he exits.

Toby is impatiently sitting at a restaurant. Georgia arrives happily late from rehearsals to find Toby in a foul mood. Georgia continues to talk about the play when Toby reveals that her marriage might be in trouble. Jimmy bounces in with great news that he finally has been given a part in a play and demands that they celebrate. Jimmy is beaming and Georgia congratulates him while Toby looks on in silence. Jimmy realises something is not right, but Toby invites them to her birthday party and lightens the mood.

Georgia returns to rehearsals. She is feeling light-hearted and brings David a gift-wrapped present. David is taken aback and asks Georgia to wait a moment. He returns and introduces her to his new girlfriend. Georgia awkwardly holds her smile as she comes to understand that David's affections towards her were only about the play.

A disconsolate Georgia heads to her dressing room but is stopped by a phone call from an upset Jimmy, who informs her that Toby has called off her party because Toby's husband has just asked for a divorce. Devastated for their friend, they agree to meet at Toby's that evening. David finds an upset Georgia and begins to explain about his new girlfriend. Georgia lashes out at David for being self-absorbed to think that her emotions have anything to do with him.

Unable to find a cab, Georgia is forced to walk in the rain to Toby's apartment. She is greeted at the door by Toby, who is dressed perfectly for her cancelled party. Georgia begins filling Toby's glass with champagne and listening to Toby's story of her past as an enviable college beauty, an untalented actress and then an impeccable wife to her high-profile New York husband. Her composure crumbles over the fact that her husband is no longer interested in her. The doorbell rings and Toby excuses herself to retouch her makeup. At the door is a shaking Jimmy who immediately asks Georgia to get him a drink. He gulps down two glasses of the champagne and reveals that he was just fired from his play, three nights before the opening, after having invited all his family and friends.

Georgia retreats to the kitchen and proceeds to drink three full glasses of champagne in succession. She returns to the room tipsy. Now drinking openly with her unaware friends, Georgia tries to rally them out of their depression. She even agrees with Jimmy about how wonderful he was in a play that she never saw. Jimmy and Toby realize to their horror that Georgia is drinking.

Polly, unaware that the party has been cancelled, turns up at Toby's with her new boyfriend. The three friends form a plan to conceal their problems from an unsuspecting Polly. Toby and Jimmy are able to greet Polly normally, but Georgia, now very drunk, has an over-the-top reaction to Polly and her date. Polly quickly realises that her mother has relapsed and Toby and Jimmy are back to covering up for her bad behavior. She scolds her mother for her insensitive, selfish and uncaring attitude towards everyone around her. Polly storms out with her boyfriend and Jimmy takes Georgia home.

Georgia insists she is fine and Jimmy can trust her to be by herself. After he leaves, Georgia discovers she is out of cigarettes and goes to buy a pack, but does so in a neighborhood bar. A stranger draws her attention and they strike up a flirty conversation as Georgia orders a drink. Across town, Polly wants to understand why her mother drinks so she asks her boyfriend to buy some alcohol. Georgia abruptly ends her conversation at the bar, only to find that the stranger has followed her outside. When she refuses his request to stay, he violently grabs her and pulls her into a darkened alley.

A battered and bleeding Georgia goes to Toby's, who is horrified and wants to ring a doctor. Georgia, afraid of bad press, begs her not to call anyone. Toby tends to Georgia's wounded face while Georgia continues to drink. Toby points out that though she isn't as talented as Georgia, at least she isn't self-destructive. This logic sets off Georgia, who mocks her. A furious Toby expresses that she's had it covering for Georgia from here on out and offers Georgia two solutions: Either make use of Toby's high-rise terrace balcony to quickly finish her life or do everyone a favor and stop being such an "astronomical pain in the ass." A sobering Georgia stares at her defiant friend and muses: "I never said it was a multiple-choice question." The two old friends share a tender laugh and hug and they walk back inside.

The next morning, Polly is confused and angry about her mother's black eye and bruises. Georgia admits she isn't ready to handle the responsibilities of caring for another person and that, for starters, she has to learn to stand on her own feet. Polly feels rejected by her mother's decision, and doesn't understand it when Georgia refuses to meet Polly and her ex-husband for lunch. After Polly packs and moves out, Jimmy visits Georgia, but his coddling reminds her that the safety of her circle of friends is enabling her behavior. The film ends with Georgia, smartly dressed and with sunglasses hiding her eye, meeting Polly and Polly's father for lunch.




Awards and nominations

1982 Academy Awards
  • Nominated : Best Actress in a Leading Role Marsha Mason
  • Nominated : Best Actor in a Supporting Role James Coco
  • Nominated : Best Actress in a Supporting Role Joan Hackett
1982 Golden Globes
  • Won : Best Motion Picture Actress in a Supporting Role Joan Hackett
  • Nominated : Best Motion Picture Actor in a Supporting Role James Coco
  • Nominated : Best Motion Picture Actress in a Supporting Role Kristy McNichol
1982 Golden Raspberry Awards
  • Nominated : Worst Supporting Actor James Coco
  • Nominated : Worst Original Song – "Only When I Laugh"
1982 Young Artist Awards

Home media

The film is available for download through Apple's iTunes Store and Amazon Video.[1] As of 2013, it has only been physically released on VHS and not DVD or Blu-ray.


External links