Levitt Spotlights Richard Dreyfuss Movies


Richard Dreyfuss is one of my favorite actors. up there with Paul Giamatti and Gene hackman. . Unlike many of our greatest actors Denzel Washington or Tom Cruise who command the screen and exude confidence, Dreyfuss constantly displays a jittery un-confidence…  sort of a Paul Giamatti after 6 cups of cofee. Dreyfuss nervous laugh and hyper delivery style make him always interesting to watch. His comic delivery style and smart alec quips also temper his more annoying roles.  His best characters are tense, creative types uncomfortable in their own skin, and display a restless, ambitious energy and usually brighter, more self aware than everyone around them, and are meticulous in their pursuit of perfection. You might meet the archetypal Dreyfuss character in the street while trying to hail a cab at the same time. His entitled behavior and insistence that his needs come first might grate on you initially but, at the end of 5 minutes, you’d probably find yourself agreeing that he probably was the most deserving of the cab and even offering suggestions on the best route.

The Rom coms


Dreyfuss is not your typical rom com actor. He looks smart not suave.  rude not charming. Frequently with approaching with a self-satisfied smirk, he looks more like a guy that will push you out of his way than kiss you.   So the films in which he shows his rom com chops are usually include a competitive spark where he spends a good amount of time fencing with his romantic partner and the woman usually succumbs not because of his innate charms but seem almost sucked into his competitive energy and passion for his work. What makes Dreyfuss’ RomCom films:  The Goodbye Girl (acting)and The Competition (piano) The Buddy System( novelist, inventor)  richer than your garden variety romcom is that they are not just about a romantic relationship but also about intertwining career with love.  Dreyfuss is not your typical pining lover. He meets his female co-stars on equal footing and they are frequently. swept up in his enthusiasm and passion for his work. The plot-lines in these films are not about misunderstandings, mistaken identity, or silly games. all his female co-stars know exactly where they stand with him. Instead their romantic rival is Dreyfuss’ work passion:acting excellent, piano playing excellence etc.  His co-stars  struggle comes when they find out how truly committed he is to his work. Amazingly, although Dreyfuss is pretty single-minded/strong in his pursuit of career, in most of Dreyfuss’ romcom style films he is generally very well matched with the woman.   In The Goodbye Girl, Neil Simon creates a vibe similar to Hepburn/Tracy (but funny) in which, Dreyfuss needy actor character runs off the rails into flights of arrogance, self obsession, or negativity.,  Marsha Mason skillfully reels him in.  Similarly, in “The Competition”, Amy Irving is the piano-playing rival/lover who frequently applies the breaks/pedal on Dreyfuss’ arrogance and makes him see things in perspective.  So often typical rom coms are just simply about the peaks and valleys of a relationship and that’s it . For example, in “When Harry Met Sally”  Whether Harry Sold aluminum siding for a living or Sally was an investigative journalist is irrelevant. It was barely mentioned and never explored. They are limited only to their feelings toward each other not to the greater world at large.

Richard the Geek


Dreyfuss also plays his share of geeks -(UFO Enthusiast, shark expert)  in Close Encounters he plays an obsessed with UFOS.  sort of a proxy for Spielberg.  A channeler of extra terrestials and the untamed forces of nature (shark expert in Jaws), His nervous, four eyed wonder is mirror for the audience member fascinated,  He’s not a square jawed schwartzenneger/stallone hero using their  fists and brawn to battle the unknown, Dreyfuss’ weapon of choice is a camera or a microscope. He’s not going to box with the aliens, stare them down, or insult their mothers  He’s there to observe and we follow along with his hyper rush for discovery. Knowing,  he’s no match so he stays out of the way, he is content to observe. fueled by scientific curiosity. The quest is made more interesting because of Dreyfuss’ volatile, twitchy energy. He is no staid lab coated technician working laboriously over a problem.  Instead, frequently Dreyfuss gets his hands dirty; diving into the water and entering a shark cage (jaws). He also builds alien sculptures with shaving foam or mashed potatoes and then even boards an actual alien ship at the end of the film. sure, in examining creatures of the earth or of other planets,  Dreyfuss may frequently outstay his welcome but he always does come in peace.

Richard Dreyfuss The Actor


The Goodbye Girl is probably Dreyfuss’ quintessential performance. In this film, Dreyfuss cares more than is seemly for public adoration. Normally, its more manly to downplay or hide outward ambition behind nonchalance. But  Dreyfuss is too full of ambition to content himself with just the love of a good woman his character also wants to be a famous stage actor.  His face and paunchy body displays all the nervous ticks for this hunger.  He practically jumps off the screen and begs the audience to give him an acting career.

Whose Life Is It Anyway-  This is the film in which Richard dreyfuss is stripped of his creative outlet as an actor and as subject in the film… his body.  He plays a sculptor who suffers a horrendous car accident rendering him quadriplegic and unable to sculpt. Dreyfuss must show a whole host of disparate,conflicting emotions all bedridden  Despite your feelings on the film’s theme or Euthanasia in general,the pure despair Dreyfus manages to capture in this flick is more potent than a lot of his sillier, more lightweight roles.

Mr Holland’s Opus– In this film all the trademarks of the Dreyfuss character are on full display, the ambition, the frustration, the meticulousness,. He embodies the typical teacher persona: surrounded by “Knuckleheads” who can’t truly appreciate his lessons and  The nagging feeling that he would always rather be somewhere else.   Scene after scene presents this conflict. But because Dreyfuss most enduring quality as an actor is always  his restless competitiveness, he is a great match for this character because,  Along the way he does get seduced to even excel in the very thing he hates: He becomes an excellent teacher.




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