[Quick Summary: A dedicated son seeks high and low to fulfill his dying mother's wish to meet Greta Garbo.]
This is a comedy.
...which ISN'T an exciting fact, except this IS a Sidney Lumet directed comedy.
...which IS exciting because Lumet did not direct many comedies at all. (In fact, he's states that he's not very good at comedy.*)
OK, so the execution of the script may not have hit it out of the park.
But is the script good??! Why did it attract Lumet, Anne Bancroft, and Ron Silver?
The script is a tremendous work of comedy.
I wonder how many hours it took to hone, and hone, and hone so the comedy became this sharp.
I particularly liked how the script portrays the mother Estelle through non sequiturs.
Estelle is eccentric and maddening, but sane.
I liked that she would choose a non sequitur and run it all the way to its furthest conclusion.
These "logical" non sequiturs fit this character well. They are broad, but not wacky. They rail against injustice, and champion the underdog.
ex. "ANOTHER ANGLE - AS A WAITRESS
ESTELLE: I'll have the chicken salad plate.
The waitress writes it down.
GILBERT: Just coffee.
ESTELLE (to waitress): You don't reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. That's very nice.
She hasn't the slightest idea what Estelle is talking about. Estelle sees her consternation and explains, pointing to the bottom of the menu.
ESTELLE: In the south, restaurants used to print, 'We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone' on the bottom of menus ---
ANGLE - GILBERT
Convulsing in his chair with embarrassment:
GILBERT: Mother, for Godssake!
She ignores him.
ESTELLE: They did this to keep black customers out. They would lie and say it was to keep out drunks, but everyone knew differently. You still see it on menus today. It's nice to see it's not on yours.
WAITRESS (after speechless beat): Anything else?"
WHAT I'VE LEARNED: When Estelle goes off on a rant/non sequitur, it seems random but it is not.
She has a purpose in mind.
From a writing standpoint, it's a great way to sneak in the character's point of view on topics, while still delivering laughs.
Garbo Talks (1984)(undated)
by Larry Grusin
*I have not seen the film, but this fact could very well be true, if Roger Ebert's one star review is to be believed.