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  Lost in America Dropping Out
Year: 1985
Director: Albert Brooks
Stars: Albert Brooks, Julie Hagerty, Garry Marshall, Art Frankel, Joey Coleman, Charles Boswell, Donald Gibb, Michael Greene, Tom Tarpey, Michael Cornelison, Maggie Roswell, Ernie Brown, Herb Nanas, Candy Ann Brown, Raynold Gideon, Radu Gavor
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: David Howard (Albert Brooks) lies awake in bed beside his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) one night, their house stacked with boxes as they have been packing to move somewhere more expensive. But something does not sit right with him, he is convinced he is up for a promotion at an interview with the boss tomorrow, he has asked everyone he knows, and they believe he will be perfect for it, so why does he feel so uncertain? Linda tells him his existence has been too controlled, hence a bit of randomness and spontaneity leaves him discombobulated, and he is so incensed he gets up to sleep in the garage. But she is onto something, so he returns to bed and stews...

Brooks' previous film as director had been the cult favourite Modern Romance, and Lost in America more or less repeated that pattern, building up strong word of mouth and being sought out by his fans who appreciated his West Coast humour for its smarts and uncompromising - but not offensive - take on America as he saw it. Decades later those two movies had been consolidated as cult classics, and while it was accurate to observe there were many who did not get his sense of humour, if you appreciated his brand of social satire built around characters who were not quite sympathetic, though not exactly unsympathetic either (it was a balancing act), you would find him hilarious.

Really there was a sketch comedy framework to these films where most scenes would operate in a fashion where you could watch any of them in extract and they would succeed beautifully as skits, very funny ones at that. With his regular co-writer Monica Johnson, who helped guide most of his work on the big screen as far as scripting went, we were offered a premise and variations on that theme; there was no real escalation of comic lunacy as you would get in many other comedy writers' efforts, it just powered along with Brooks playing an aggravating and aggravated middle class American, here trying to live out the American Dream as seen by the Reagan era eighties.

Except it was the dream of the Baby Boomers who felt they had sold out by getting jobs, marriages and settling down to work for The Man, when a movie like Easy Rider, which had been their favourite in college, told a different story of how to live in America. The attraction of the open road, going where the day took you, was all very well, but here Brooks and Johnson asked was this truly credible? It was indeed fair enough for Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper to present this fantasy, but you all seem to have forgotten how that movie ended - it was a lot less romantic and a lot more cynical than you remember. And besides, David and Linda are trying to act this out in a well-stocked motor home, not a pair of motorbikes with the financial results of a cocaine deal in the gas tank to fund them.

This tone of enquiring, "Really? You don't think the stability of the nice job and house would be a better basis to find yourself?" proved to be the jumping off point for sequence after sequence of sidesplitting character comedy. The bit where David does not get the promotion he expected and blows up in a fit of pique, getting fired in the process, was the first, superb, indication that there was a genuine intelligence behind its interactions - later, the exchange with Garry Marshall, as a Las Vegas casino director David is trying and failing to persuade to get his money back from, was as peerless an example of cringe humour as you'll ever see, as we can understand David's desperation but also how ludicrous his reaction is. Another highlight is the employment office interview with the Arizonan who cannot believe David gave up a hundred thousand dollar job to apply as a crossing guard. There wasn't a bad performance in this, because Brooks and Hagerty sold every line of dialogue with an inspired, pitch perfect aplomb. Yes, it did wrap things up too fast, but that was part of the gag: there was no way this stupid dream would ever work out, and he always had a safety net most of the population never would. Music by Arthur B. Rubinstein.

[This is released on Blu-ray as part of The Criterion Collection with these features:

New, restored 2K digital transfer, supervised by director Albert Brooks, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New conversation with Brooks and filmmaker Robert Weide
New interviews with actor Julie Hagerty, executive producer Herb Nanas, and filmmaker and screenwriter James L. Brooks
Trailer
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
PLUS: An essay by critic Scott Tobias

New cover by F. Ron Miller based on an original theatrical poster.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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