Two unique comic talents, Academy Award nominee Peter Sellers (Best Actor in a Leading Role – Being There, 1979 and Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1964) and Academy Award winner Goldie Hawn (Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Cactus Flower, 1969) join forces in a saucy romance about an amorous gourmet whose goose is cooked when he falls for a giddy young temptress. Robert Danvers (Peter Sellers), a TV cooking expert who moonlights as a self-styled Casanova, runs into cheerfully amoral Marion (Goldie Hawn), who’s been ejected by her boyfriend from their flat. After Robert installs Marion in his London love nest, he pursues her with complete incompetence and gets more than he bargained for. This not-so-dumb outrages his outrages begs her to come back, Robert has a choice-sharing Marion or losing her. Sellers’ humor added to Hawn’s zaniness makes one delicious comedy.
eyelights: Marion’s dissection of Robert’s every move. the elevator scene.
eyesores: Hawn’s girly shtick.
“My God, but you’re lovely.”
‘There’s a Girl in My Soup’ is a 1970 romantic comedy starring Peter Sellers and Goldie Hawn. It is based on the 1966 stage comedy by Terence Frisby, who also wrote the screenplay and won a British Writers’ Guild award for it. While the film was a moderate success, the play was a smash hit, running for six years straight in London and breaking records.
Set in London in the late sixties, it tells the story of Robert Danvers, a womanizing celebrity television chef who meets a young American hippie when they attend neighbouring parties. In the hope of seducing her, he takes her home with him. Jaded and cynical, and completely unaware of who he is, she dissects and rebuffs his every move, winning instead his sympathy.
Naturally, it evolves into romance.
Unlike the play, which is entirely set in Danvers’ luxury flat, the film version first takes us to a wedding, where we are introduced to the chef’s reputation and ways: not only has he been a past lover of the bride’s, he manages to coerce her into a final fling right after the wedding, before she leaves for her honeymoon. This guy has no scruples whatsoever.
What I like best about the motion picture version of ‘There’s a Girl in My Soup’ is that the original material is supplemented with such extra scenes that tie it all together nicely. Although it’s not uncommon for plays to be fleshed out this way when transitioned to the screen, it’s not always done successfully. No doubt that having Frisby adapt his own material helped.
Actually, I kind of prefer the film to the play, which I thought was a bit thin. I recognize its flaws, which is mostly due to the direction and performances, but the material is really quite good, and it doesn’t surprise me that it was later adapted into a pocket book (yes, the play was adapted into a movie which was adapted into a book. This is also not uncommon. Weird, but not uncommon).
In the play, one gets to hear about things that have happened offstage, but we never get to see them. This leaves more to the imagination, except that what we’re missing sounds exciting (parties, traveling, …etc.). It’s also much more dialogue-focused, which is obviously a good thing, but the movie allows the material to breathe more, giving us scenery and silence.
My favourite moment is just a blip on the radar, but it’s when Robert takes Marion on a trip to France for a wine-tasting festival he’d been invited to. Incapable of understanding the principle of swishing and spitting wine, she gets utterly toasted, so Danvers ends up carrying her on over his shoulder into the hotel elevator, much to the dismay of the other guests.
With her bum in another woman’s face, he is told “I do hope your daughter will be feeling better soon”, to which he dryly retorts “It’s my son, actually. I’m rather worried about him”.
Ha! Twisted! I loves it.
Although the script isn’t exactly overabundant with such zingers, it’s filled with nice repartee, which is precisely why I enjoy it so. Just the first encounter between Danvers and Marion indulges us with an amusing duel of wills, as she decides to leave with him to spite her boyfriend, but then refuses to cede any ground, taking him down a few notches in the process.
There’s an interesting dynamic between them, which is likely due to a lack of chemistry between Sellers and Hawn: Sellers was in a weird place at this time of his life, and Hawn later described him in interview as “strange”. This informed the conflict and disparity between the characters, which was an excellent touch. Unfortunately, they never truly warm up to each other entirely.
Some have been critical of Sellers’ interpretation of Danvers, with claims that he was charmless in the role. I always took his take on Danvers being that he is an artificial person, in much the way I would expect a celebrity of his sort to be: superficial, self-serving, faking his way through situations for appearances’ sake. From that perspective it’s perfect, if unendearing.
My only issue with him is his consistent use of the line “My God, but you’re lovely”, which became a catchphrase, apparently, but which is used far too often, to the point that it’s grating. Also, his recurring way of trying to slip his shoe off with one finger while making out, in some kind of acrobatic move, is peculiar to say the least. Who thought that one up?
As for Hawn, she’s cute but she affects this really annoying girlish laugh and a facial expression that is cartoonish and ridiculous. Thankfully, she does this only a few times, and the rest of the time she’s pleasant enough, but she does nothing out of the ordinary that any other actress couldn’t have pulled off (Brigitte Bardot was reportedly considered, for instance. That would have been interesting).
Still, all in all, ‘There’s a Girl in My Soup’ is a lovely little picture. It’s uneven and it never hits the stratosphere, but it has a number of delightful exchanges between the key players that are both witty and thought-provoking. People seeking a traditional romantic comedy, however, should probably steer clear of this picture, as it eschews conventions from start to finish.
Which, in and of itself, is reason enough for some of us to think highly of it.
Date of viewing: September 4, 2014