It's a well-intentioned R. Like, it's an R that could have easily been a PG. Yes, make this movie "R". They swear occasionally. Albert Brooks tries and fails to seduce his wife at work. But, like, that's it. It's an R that could have easily not been, but Brooks doesn't care. R gives him validity. I get that. So R it is!
DIRECTOR: Albert Brooks
I have this habit. I'm not saying it's a bad habit, but it is a habit. I have this habit of just throwing Criterion movies on my Amazon wish list. It really hasn't failed me yet. Even if I don't like the movie that's on Criterion, I'm always interested to watch it and I'm pretty glad that I have that one under my belt. I knew nothing about this movie when I threw it on my Wish List. (I'm sorry, honey. Sometimes you just got to let a bird fly.) But I saw that it was Albert Brooks and I weirdly really like Albert Brooks movies. Albert Brooks movies fall into a very specific category of film. They aren't quite Woody Allen movies. Woody Allen seems to withstand lots of personal drama and is still kind of considered a genius. Albert Brooks doesn't have any drama that I know of. (I refuse to do a Google search because I at least have some admiration for the guy. I also don't want to write a billion words about the challenge I have admiring a creeper.) His movies are extremely technically proficient. I will even say that he's pretty respected. After all, his movies go to Criterion now. (I'm talking post Michael Bay era.) But he's never that appreciated. His movies play on television at 2:00 am. They are, by-and-large, forgettable. I really like the guy and I can barely list too many of his movies. But I do excited to watch them. Like most of Brooks's oeuvre, it's a fun time and a pretty great movie. I guarantee you I will have forgotten that I've seen this film a year from now.
I don't know what makes Brooks so forgettable. I giggle at a lot of his scripts. That's mostly what these movies are: filmed script readings on location. Like Allen, much of the movie comes from just absolutely fantastically clever dialogue. I told you, I couldn't tell you one line from this movie right now, but I can tell you that it was really funny. I looked at a list of Brooks's movies and I kind of remember Defending Your Life. (Mr. Brooks, you do not need to defend your life whatsoever to me. This is the worst backhanded compliment I've ever given.) I would say that Lost in America is completely unmemorable or important to the canon in any way if it wasn't for one thing. Lost in America might have the most bananas message a movie has ever had. I'm not actually quite sure what the message is, but it is there somewhere. I mean, this is a road movie. It's two people trying to find themselves while driving across the country in an RV. It keep saying that it is Easy Rider. It's not. It's National Lampoon's Vacation. Tonally, these characters are the Griswolds way sooner than they are Captain America. That's fine. I don't know if Brooks actually has any actually aspirations to be Easy Rider with Lost in America. That would be nice. But the movie doesn't really cover new territory with the road comedy. There is a plan. Along the way, things go atrociously wrong. Comedy ensues. There's even a degree of laziness to the whole thing. Tropes are straight up wagging their fingers at the audience. The movie starts with Brooks lamenting that he bought a house before he officially got the promotion he needed to buy the house. What is going to happen? STUPID SPOILER: He's not going to get the promotion. The couple goes to Vegas and swears not to lose any money. What's going to to happen? STUPID SPOILER: They lose all of their money. Like, it's fine. This is the mashed potatoes and gravy of filmmaking. Getting the characters to their miserable spot is the important thing. It doesn't matter how they got there. It only matters that they got there.
But the weird thing! I keep saying I'm going to lament the weirdest message in the world and I keep getting distracted. SPOILERS FOR THE END OF THE MOVIE: Is the message saying that corporate capitalism is the best way to go? The whole movie is about this marriage that is falling apart because these two are so obsessed with their jobs and success that they have lost that spark. When they go on the road, they do so to live the simple life. I acknowledge that there's a message to be found with extremism. Going completely off the grid seems like a bad choice, but this couple wasn't really about that. They had a nest egg (now I'm quoting the movie.) They were going to live an upper middle class life on cheaper real estate and explore the country. It was a movie about early retirement and how awesome that seemed. Most importantly, they were going to rekindle their marriage. The reason that they even go to Vegas was to get remarried. He realized that he had put his family second and he wanted to put them first. Great! Apparently, according to Brooks, that's a whole lot of hooey. After they lose all of their money in Vegas and things go poorly for them, they realize that they can't live a simple life without a backup plan so they go and beg for their jobs back. They get those jobs back at a lower pay and live happily ever after. That's a really creepy message. Perhaps it is about doing what they are built for, but the characters really were miserable in their marriage at the beginning. Linda, played by Julie Hagerty, was considering getting a divorce. Aren't they just going to go through the same self-destructive cycles that the beginning of the movie showed? I mean, there's a chance that this disastrous road trip may have given them an appreciation for each other. That might be in the cards. But they were miserable in what they were doing. Forever, it will be about work and promotions. That's a real bummer. They never had that revelation that they could find value in each other. What kind of nonsense is that?
There's also something that I've never really seen in a movie before. Linda kind of sucks, but she still apparently is the good guy in this story. It is Linda who gambles away all of the nest egg. Remember, this is the nest egg that was going to support them for the rest of their lives. These people are in their early 40s. That's a lot of money that she lost. She then asks Brooks's character, David, to get angry and to scream at her because she deserves it. When he finally vents in an argument (which is admittedly intense, but not THAT intense), she leaves him on the side of the road with a complete stranger. There is this series of false promises that somehow make David look like the bad guy despite the fact that he's trying his best with an impossible situation. I know what I sound like. I could easily be accused of defending the "nice guy" trope. I don't think that's what is really going on here. She is actually at fault. David actually starts the movie as the bad guy. He needs to change because his neurotic tendencies would drive anyone crazy. But when he is attacked over and over again for his personality traits, he has made major changes. He is a completely different person. Imagine that Ebenezer Scrooge got his comeuppance five years after the end of "A Christmas Carol." Let's say Bob Cratchit burned the place down and he just started screaming at Scrooge for all of the stuff that's ever bothered him. That's kind of what goes on here. David is really doing his best to be attentive to his spouse in this section of the movie and she's coming across like the good guy. It's really weird. They end up together still, but that change almost makes no sense. It is only once David gets punched, again due to Linda's choices, that Linda takes him back. I don't get it, but it works for a comedy.
This movie might not meant to be scrutinized. Brooks wasn't trying to make a classic. He was making a road comedy that referenced a film that he liked a lot. It's fun, but it is weird. Hopefully this overly long-winded analysis of the movie will help me remember it...
...but probably not.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.