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Spotlight on: Albert Brooks's Real Life
Alternate: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker's Airplane!

Real Life DVD Cover

[Amazon.co.uk] [Amazon.ca]
Albert Brooks's Real Life

Albert Brooks's first film -- Real Life -- is a satire on the television show "An American Family," which aired on PBS in the 1970's. A film crew followed the Bill Loud family around and recorded their life over a year's time. At the time, this was a novel idea. The film even begins with a quote by Margaret Mead stating in effect that this has begun a new form of entertainment.

Remember when so-called "reality TV" wasn't being forced down your throat daily? Surprisingly, I do. I also remember when styles like cinema verite ("truth in film") were being touted as new and innovative. Now it's all just a cheap way to get ratings.

Brooks stars as Albert Brooks, famous Hollywood director. He plays himself as the kind of director Joel McCrea was in Sullivan's Travels--wanting nothing more than to put "reality" on the big screen. However, having obviously not seen that film, he misses the point that people don't go to the movies to see their own lives. They get that for free.

But, anyway, Brooks' film is not just about a family that is followed around by cameras. In fact, it's hardly about the family at all. The person who has the most screen time is Brooks himself. This film is really about him and how he affects the family. On hand are members of the National Institute of Human Behavior, there to record and publish their findings. Also, there is the movie studio representative who is continually looking to find a "name" to draw in viewers ("Can't we get Paul Newman to move in next door? How about Redford or Nicholson?")

It's a funny film, and although several of the events feel forced, they still work. One bit, however, is truly inspired. Jeanette allows Brooks to film a gynecological examination but they get no farther than the waiting room. The doctor comes out and immediately covers his face screaming for them to leave. "I had that trouble with 60 Minutes," he claims. Brooks is able to calm him down--they are not with the news. When the doctor lowers his hands finally, Brooks screams, "I know you! Maxwell Rennert, the Baby Broker!" He then turns to the crew, explaining, "This guy used to sell babies on the black market," as patients disgustedly leave the waiting room.

So much for the gynecological exam.

Brooks is constantly talking to the camera, explaining about the latest technology involved in making the film, and inserting himself in these people's lives to ill effect. He never becomes the mere observer he so wants to be. Eventually, he has a breakdown as the studio cuts the funding because "nobody wants reality." He decides that if they want fake, he'll give them fake, and has a long conversation--really a monologue--about the endings of the biggest films of all time. After dismissing Star Wars and Jaws as too expensive, he settles on Gone with the Wind, and his reenaction of the burning of Tara (complete with the proper soundtrack) ends the film, with only a scrolling epilogue to tie things up.

I've long enjoyed Albert Brooks' films. Apart from the lackluster The Muse, he is consistently funny and insightful. And even if he does insist on casting himself as the lead, it works because he has a certain sad-sack charm that carries over the screen. (If you've seen him in Broadcast News, you'll know what I'm talking about.)

He's covered most of the universal subjects: life (Real Life), love (Modern Romance), death (Defending Your Life), escaping the rat race (Lost in America), and having a mother (Mother). Perhaps The Muse was narratively unsuccessful because it broke from the problems of real people and relied too much on the problems of a Hollywood personality. In any case, one is allowed a few missteps if the rest are sure. And I will follow Albert Brooks wherever he wishes to take me.

Airplane! DVD Cover Alternate Recommendation: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker's Airplane!

And if Albert Brooks isn't funny enough for you, you can do what I do: fall back on an old favorite. Airplane! has so many gags and jokes flying around the whole time that there will be something to make you laugh.

The writing team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker (affectionately known as "ZAZ") have become a brand name in the genre of rapid-fire parody. The Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane!, Top Secret!, the Naked Gun films, the Hot Shots! films (a lot of exclamation points here, you notice?), and their one mainstream film, Ruthless People, have made innumerable people laugh their heads off (not a pretty thought, really).

Based on the 1957 disaster film Zero Hour!, the thin story concerns a commercial flight that loses all its cockpit personnel and has to depend on an insecure ex-bomber to get them down. Along with this problem, he is trying to get back together with his girlfriend who is also a stewardess on the plane. Threaded through the storyline are parodies of such films as Jaws, Saturday Night Fever, Pinocchio, From Here to Eternity--and of course the Airport films--along with just a bunch of stupid puns and sight gags, often one over top another.

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