Estelle Rolfe (Anne Bancroft) is an unconventional divorcee who resides in New York, in close proximity to her grown son Gilbert (Ron Silver) and his wife Lisa (Carrie Fisher). Estelle is a one-person protest army: she goes to jail over grocery prices, shames construction workers for catcalls to passing women, and won't cross a picket line for her son's wedding. She also loves Greta Garbo.

Though Gilbert’s wife yearns to move back to California, he cannot quite cut the silver cord that binds him to his mother. Upon learning that Estelle has a brain tumor and has been given six months to live, Estelle decides she must meet Garbo.

Gilbert, who has been named after Garbo’s leading man, John Gilbert, offers to honor her last request to meet the reclusive actress. Working as an accountant in a swank downtown Manhattan firm, Gilbert takes on a wide range of second jobs in order to meet the elusive star.

He hires a paparazzo (Howard Da Silva) to show him Garbos flat, stakes it out and even goes so far as to get a part time job delivering food there. He seeks her out on Fire Island, knowing she loves to go there and meets a Garbo Fan (Harvey Fierstein), a director (Denny Dillon) and an elderly Shakespearean actress (Hermione Gingold) who has worked with her in the past.

After months of trying, his obsession grows so much to fulfill his mother’s dying wish, that his marriage to Lisa crumbles and he meets and falls for fellow co-worker, Jane (Catherine Hicks) who is a struggling actress and who fully supports Gilberts quest for Garbo.

With days to go, Gilbert finally tracks Garbo down to a Sixth Avenue flea market. After quietly pleading with Garbo to come with him to the hospital where his mother is, she relents and follows Gilbert to Estelles room where Estelle gets her wish, the chance to talk with Greta Garbo.

Oscar
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Golden Globes
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Director Sidney Lumet pays homage to that fleeting figure known as Garbo. The mysterious woman is at the center of a film that perhaps is not so much about the mythical figure, as much as the allure of what she stood for. According to some, Lumet asked Greta Garbo to appear on screen again, after all these years, as herself. Unfortunately, there was no response. Garbo died in 1990, six years after the premiere. No one knows if she ever saw this film.

“Garbo Talks” is built around Estelle, and the role fits Anne Bancroft like a glove. Bancroft's performance is really something to watch in this film. You want what she wants. In a way, the film is more about her than her son, who wants to please his dying mother and grant her one wish even if it's almost impossible. Bancroft walks away with most of the accolades, and this is largely because of her uncanny capacity to suggest volumes about Estelle’s life. Her final speech at the end of the movie about Garbo’s career, as she perceived it while growing up, is a brilliant and moving dialogue. It is evident that Miss Bancroft knew this character inside and out.

Much of the film’s success has to do with the actors involved: Ron Silver is terrific as Gilbert, a put-upon guy if there ever was one; Carrie Fisher in an offbeat role as his West Coast wife, gives a hilarious version of the Jewish American princess; Catherine Hicks shines as Gilbert’s true love and sympathetic office mate; Howard Da Silva brings about a Chekhovian dimensions to the part of a sleazy, semiretired photographer who chases after celebrities; Harvey Fierstein is perfectly cast as the campy, gay Garbo fan, and Hermione Gingold is priceless as a proud if befuddled veteran actress.

But there is one character, Estelle ex-husband Walter, that is one of sheer genius. Steven Hill who, as Gilbert's father, finds real grief in a long speech in which he explains why he originally fell in love with Estelle and then why, just as inevitably, he fell out of love and divorced her. Brilliant.

“Garbo Talks” may not be an Oscar winning movie, but it is definitely a tour de force performance by Anne Bancroft that is not to be missed. Make sure you have a box of tissues, because you'll need at least one.