Paula McFadden (Mason), a 33-year-old semi-retired dancer with a ten-year-old daughter named Lucy (Quinn Cummings), has to become un-retired when her actor boyfriend Tony leaves town, breaking up with her via a "Dear John" note. Even worse is that their shared New York apartment was under Tony's name, and he has sub-let it to another actor, Elliot Garfield (Dreyfuss), who has arrived in New York from Chicago to star in a play. Paula is horrified to have a stranger moving in to her apartment, and an actor at that, but Elliot has a lease and a key, so they grudgingly work out an arrangement in which they will share the apartment.
Naturally, romantic sparks fly.
The Goodbye Girl was the first time Simon wrote an original screenplay. It received five Academy Award nominations, and Richard Dreyfuss became the youngest person to win an Oscar for Best Actor up to that time (since broken by Adrien Brody for The Pianist).
- Adorably Precocious Child: Lucy, who is ten but has a very adult outlook on life, and isn't nearly as bothered about Paula shacking up with a married man as Paula is.
- Belligerent Sexual Tension: Right off the bat, as Elliot notes Paula's "shapely fanny" during their first and rather hostile meeting.
- The Big Rotten Apple: Paula is mugged in broad daylight outside a liquor store, losing her purse and all her money.
- Book-Ends: In Elliot and Paula's first scene, he arrives at the apartment, then has to call her from a phone booth during a torrential thuderstorm after she tells him to go away. In their last scene, he leaves, but then calls her again from the phone booth, during a torrential thunderstorm.
- Camp Gay / Large Ham: How Elliot is instructed to play Richard III, much to his horror.
- Deadpan Snarker: Lucy gets the best lines, like in the scene where they're watching Elliot play a gay Richard III."Looks like the guy at the beauty parlor."
- "Dear John" Letter: The film opens with Paula finding a letter from Tony on the mantel, announcing that they are not going to California for his TV-movie role, but instead that he is breaking up with her and going to Europe to play in a Bernardo Bertolucci film. He does not mention that he sublet the apartment.
- Do You Want to Copulate?: Paula has been shy and hesitant in the face of Elliot's advances, but after he stages a rooftop dinner date for the two of them, she goes straight to "Are we going to sleep with each other tonight?"
- Drowning My Sorrows: Elliot gets very drunk after reading the brutal reviews of both the Richard III show and his performance.
- Empathic Environment: A thunderstorm drenches New York as an enraged Paula is tearing down Tony's pictures after finding out he sublet the apartment.
- Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: After his disastrous Richard III closes, Elliot winds up as a sidewalk barker outside a strip club.
- Family-Friendly Stripper: Elliot hands out fliers outside a strip club where the girls keep bikinis on.
- The Ghost: Tony, who is already gone when the film starts, but he is frequently discussed, his pictures are up on the wall, and Paula and Lucy read his letter.
- Hangover Sensitivity: Elliot is much the worse for wear the morning after drowning his sorrows (see above).
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: The credit in the opening titles is "Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl".
- The Lady's Favor: Gender-swapped. As Elliot is leaving the apartment to go film a movie, just like Tony did, Paula is terrified that he'll never come back as Tony didn't—until she realizes he left his guitar, which he would never willingly give up, in the apartment. Then she knows he's coming back to her.
- Meet Cute: Elliot arrives at his new apartment dripping wet from the rain, fishes out his key, opens the door—and finds the chain on the hook. Someone is living there.
- The Mistress: Paula was this for Tony, who hadn't gotten around to divorcing his wife. She's embarrassed over this.
- Naked People Are Funny: Elliot Sleeps in the Nude, and when he can't sleep, he plays his guitar.Paula: I thought you said you were decent.
Elliot: I am decent. I also happen to be naked.
- Precision F-Strike: Lucy has been told that Tony sublet their apartment."He rented the apartment. What a shithead."
- Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Simon adapted the movie into a musical that premiered on Broadway in 1993, starring Bernadette Peters and Martin Short.
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Elliot has come to New York to star in an "off-off-off Broadway" presentation of Richard III. It is terrible.
- Thematic Theme Tune / Title Theme Tune: Written and performed by David Gates, it reached #15 on the Billboard chart.