June 6, 2013

Lost in America (1985)
Starring Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty

Comments:   A couple of months ago, I praised Albert Brooks and Albert Brooks comedies in my review of Mother.  And, well, this review is going to be pretty much more of the same.  Because here is another great Albert Brooks movie that has never received the respect that it deserves.  

Lost in America, which I know that 75% of the people reading this have never heard of before, is without question one of the single funniest comedies of the 80's.

Lost in America is the story of the Howard family of Los Angeles.  David and Linda.  Played by Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty.

Linda and David

David and Linda are what you would call your perfect upper-middle class suburban yuppies.  

David works for an advertising firm and he drives a BMW.  Linda is a high ranking sales executive.  Together, they make a lot of money.  They own a nice house in Los Angeles.  They have a lot of friends.  They throw parties and they swim in their pool.  Basically, on the surface, this is a couple who has really got their shit together and who has figured out what they want out of life.

On the surface, David and Linda Howard appear to be happy.

Ah... but then... a downfall.

It wouldn't be an Albert Brooks movie without a downfall

One day at work, David doesn't get a promotion that he was expecting to get.  

He had planned the whole rest of his life around this promotion.  He had it all planned out in his head how his life was going to go from here, and what new car he was going to buy, and what new house he and Linda were going to move into.  

When he gets in his boss's office, and he finds out that he didn't get this promotion, he snaps.

David announcing to Linda that he just quit his job.  Oh, and he told his boss to fuck off.

In a fit of anger, David quits his job.  He decides that he doesn't want to work for The Man anymore.  He decides that he no longer wants to be a part of the system.

David goes home for a while and he stays at home and he thinks about it.  And he stews about it.  

He brainstorms what exactly he wants to do with his life now.

David brainstorming

And then one day, finally, in a fit of inspiration, it hits him.

Why, he wants to drive around the country and see the world.  He wants to leave all his possessions behind, and drop out and live in a Winnebago and just be a nomad for the rest of his life.

Hey honey, doesn't this idea sound perfect?  Wouldn't you like to drop out of society and get back to our roots?  Wouldn't you like a chance to get out there on the road and live like a wanderer and live on the road and touch Indians?

Hey, we can be just like the movie Easy Rider!

Come again?  We're doing what now?

Needless to say, Linda isn't really happy about the idea.  Wait, so you want us to be poor?  You want us to drop out?  But David is relentless.  And David happens to have a background in advertising.  So he eventually convinces her that the idea is totally doable, and it will be fun.

After all, he says to her, we have $100,000 saved up in our savings as a nest egg.  What could possibly go wrong?  We have plenty of money saved up as a safety net in case things don't work out.

And with the safety of their nest egg behind them, they are off

Lost in America is one of those movies that is nearly impossible to describe to people without spoiling all the jokes.  And so I won't.  All I will say about this movie is that David and Linda get out on the road, and things go wrong for them almost IMMEDIATELY.  And then you get the trademark Albert Brooks style of comedy where bad shit just happens to him over and over, and he slowly gets angrier and angrier and does a funnier slow burn.  

Basically, if you have ever watched Curb Your Enthusiasm or the Louis CK show, and you like that awkward style of humor where bad things happen over and over and characters get frustrated trying to react to them, you will enjoy this movie.  Albert Brooks was doing awkward Larry David slow burn comedy way before it became popular.

Wait, Linda.  Say that last part again.  You did what?

Lost in America is one of those movies that I first saw years ago.  I remember seeing it when I was a teenager and I really enjoyed it.  And then, like most Albert Brooks comedies, I kind of forgot about it.  Unfortunately, his style of comedy is the type that you never quite remember after you see it, because it is not very flashy, and it never really attracts a very large audience.  Let's put it this way.  Albert Brooks has never been the type of moviemaker who will pull off a $100 million comedy.

For me, personally, I never really appreciated Albert Brooks style of comedy until I was in my late 20's.  Because that was the age that I started to get into comedy writing myself.  And I started to appreciate people who could write movies that were funny without necessarily being outrageous.  Basically, I started to appreciate the guys who could write "dialogue comedies."  And that is when I got back into Albert Brooks movies and I realized how g.d. funny they are.  

Believe me, anyone who writes comedy for a living knows Albert Brooks movies very well.  Because if you want to see how it is done, his scripts are usually considered the gold standard.

"Please don't call me Retardo."

And so there you go.  Lost in America.  One of the truly great forgotten comedies of the 80's.  In fact, among Albert Brooks comedies (which have always had a very loyal following) this one is often considered to be his best.  And for a guy who wrote some pretty outstanding movies, that is saying something.

Oh, and I can't resist pointing out that this is one of the few movies out there starring Julie Hagerty, who has always been funny in everything.

Especially now that she knows that birds live in a round stick

I actually went back and I rewatched Lost in America just last week, because I wanted to see if it held up as well as I thought it would.  And damn, it's funny.  If you aren't used to Albert Brooks dry awkward comedy you might not get into it at first, but just wait.  Just give the movie about half an hour.  Because it builds.  And it builds.   And then at the end you get the famous "$100,000 job box" scene and that's about as funny as a movie scene can get.  I wish I could write dialogue as well as Albert Brooks does.

Screw you guys.  I'm goin' home.

Lost in America.  For everyone who has ever wanted to drop out of society and touch Indians.  And who doesn't have a problem eating shit and apologizing if it doesn't work out.

Be sure to get your hands on a copy of it.

Oh yes and P.S.  Lost in America was ranked #80 on Bravo's list of the 100 Funniest Movies of All Time.

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Lost in America:

Albert Brooks is a genius - 29 June 2000
The script is just *fantastic*. We begin with an unhappy yuppie speaking in hypothetics, searching for a way to change his life. The plans that he based the rest of his yuppie-hood are quickly sullied, and this springboards him into a new way of life (which is justified by the "success" of fictional characters in his favorite movie). He takes his suppressed wife along with him, and just like that, without anyone really noticing, "Lost In America" is off to the races.

Since every one of Albert Brooks' films are damn near perfect, it is silly to call this his best film. But it certainly is his most focused. The subplots are a little more than quick, sketch-like detours, leaving the central story of what actually happens when responsible people drop out to fill the screen for all ninety-one minutes of neurotic bliss.

The smartest thing Brooks could have done was to make it appear as if this was a movie about two people with a lot of money and a Winnebago travelling across country, encountering hijinks along the way. In fact, this movie is about reality. This movie's about two people who liquidate their assets, buy a Winnie, set out for the rest of their lives, and then LOSE EVERYTHING. The comedy of "Lost In America" is imbedded in the "what now?" expression that the star and director carries in his eyebrows. What could be angled for heavy dramatic purposes is turned into situational comedy (the main character's wife leaving him, going off with an ex-convict, who then beats up the main character is FUNNY?) beautifully by the writers (Brooks and frequent co-conspirator Monica Johnson).

Albert Brooks is NOT a West Coast Woody Allen. Woody Allen, as much as I love him, isn't this funny in his best movie.

I've seen the future! - 23 September 2005
And it's a bald headed man from New York! There are so many great lines - Garry Marshall is fantastic as the casino owner - from his opening "We have to tawk" to "Schmucks like Wayne Newton?" - he's underrated and used to perfection in this film. Hey, I even like the bellhop who shows the couple-to-be-married to their room. "Is this the bridal suite?" "I don't know." "Does this open to another room?" "I don't know." "Can you push these beds together?" "I don't know." Understated and hilarious.

This is among Brooks' best movies. Along with Defending Your Life, and of course, Real Life, Brooks is an absolute master at dry, subtle humor.

When this movie came out, I was about ten years away from being the "right" age to blow up at my boss, drop out and live free like in Easy Rider. When I got to the right age, I had kids and obligations, so this movie lets me live vicariously. And I don't even have to eat **** in order to do it!

ALBERT BROOKS: YOU RULE!!!! - 14 May 2001
Who said Albert Brooks is an acquired taste? After watching "The Muse," which until this day remains the FUNNIEST comedy I've ever seen, I've been curious about Brooks's work. Since this had its place on the AFI's funniest comedies of all time, I decided I'd check it out.

Though I didn't feel this was quite as funny as "The Muse," Brooks delivers his trademark sarcastic comic gags. It's hilarious to watch Brooks, a yuppie businessman who just quit his job, try to apply for a job among the lower class. Asking if there are any "executive positions."

Brooks has the best timing among all the comic actors. His style of delivering his brilliantly sarcastic dialogue is impeccable and almost never fails to crack me up! Brooks's movies are not only funny, but they're well-written. Lots of the time comedies move on the sheer energy of the cast. In his films, the writing alone is energized enough and the cast adds to that energy. Brooks and Julie Hagerty have an incredible chemistry, and their conflicts are absolutely hysterical. "From now on, you will never be allowed to use the words 'nest' or 'egg' ever again!" That's a line I will always remember. Brooks has that memorable, unique style of writing that I'm sure comedy writers everywhere will either acknowledge thoroughly or try to imitate (unsuccessfully, of course).

One thing I just cannot understand is the R-rating. Brooks, being one of the few tasteful, intelligent comedy writers in the biz, rarely uses profanity in his movies. Only twice do we hear the "f" word, and for the right reasons (He was angry at his boss for God's sake!). I'm well-aware that the PG-13 rating wasn't invented when the movie came out, but "Sixteen Candles" used the "f" word twice and got away with a PG, as well as a shower scene involving a female and a notorious close-up of her breasts. Don't expect anything filthy in this movie, because of the stupidly-awarded R-rating. Brooks doesn't sink that low.

For all those who appreciate good, intelligent humor--an escape from cheap slapstick and gross-out gags. Not that I don't appreciate that type of humor ever, but this is REALLY what comedy is all about!

Even FUNNIER in post-bubble 2002. - 7 October 2002
How can ANYBODY think this movie is dated? I just watched it for the first time in years - and it's even MORE appropriate for these times.

A male yuppie type-A doesn't get the "right" job and so convinces his wife to dump her job too so that they can "touch Indians" and "find themselves" - with the help of a gigantic motorhome and a nest egg of 100-odd thousand dollars. And of course the SECOND that things don't work out, they give in and go back their former yuppie lives. YES, the movie is short (blissfully short - 91 minutes of pure comic genius) but the sudden conclusion and mad dash across the country is the whole point...! It couldn't have ended any other way!

The premise alone is wonderful enough, but throw in the fabulous comic timing of both Brooks and Julie Haggerty, great supporting performances, impressive directing from Brooks and a near-perfect screenplay, and I believe you have what ya might call... a GREAT FILM!

My vote for funniest line? Tie between "Touch that keno card and I will kill you... I will kill you" and "You couldn't change your life on a hundred thousand dollars?"

masterpiece - 12 September 2006
Few comedies can truly be called cinematic masterpieces. Particularly in the last two decades we've seen a real scarcity of comic inspiration in the cinema. Albert Brooks' "Lost in America" is brilliant. Easily the best comedy of the bloated 1980s, possibly of the last thirty years. It ranks among the works of Preston Sturges in terms of sheer comic invention.

Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty are a Los Angeles yuppie couple who are happily married but feel stuck in the go-go 1980s decade of shallow materialism. When Brooks doesn't get the promotion he feels he deserves he spontaneously quits and convinces his wife to do the same. they liquidate their assets, buy a mobile home and ride off "just like Easy Rider" into America, to find themselves and "touch Indians".

One thing about Brooks' comedy style: it is brutally, brutally cynical. You just know their jaunt into the heartland of America isn't going to end well. And yet, Brooks' sincerity about his character "making a statement" about selling everything and going off in search of America is clearly genuine. That what makes this film so remarkable. This is a portrait of an artist in wild conflict with himself. When Brooks sees the Mercedes at the end and the film shifts to soft-focus lighting and we hear a choir singing - that has to be one of the funniest, yet most cynical moments in any comedy ever made.

I would highly recommend this film to anyone. However, not everyone "gets" Brooks' style of comedy. Some people seem to find him annoying. But he is one of the funniest men alive, too.

Also, the scene with Brooks and the casino manager when Brooks pitches his advertising "idea", is one of the funniest scenes in film history.

Underrated Classic - 2 December 2004
It's not laugh out loud funny. It's not very long. It's not particularly obvious. This film is like a joke that doesn't make you laugh when you hear it but that gets funnier and funnier as time goes on and you find yourself in situations that remind you of this movie. This is a thoughtful, subtle work of reality film. I would love to befriend the Howards, which is a tribute to the affectionate nature of the performances. Perfect casting. Classic, memorable one-liners. A gem. It's interesting that more films aren't made of the wacky plots that life's great imagination throws up. Yes, there are lot's of true crime works, usually given the Hollywood treatment. The events in some people's lives are so unlikely and unusual that there is definitely more scope for the reality genre. Very challenging to script, act and direct with the kind of delicate restraint as we see in Lost in America. 

* My favorite scene in Lost in America:

To be honest, I don't think I have ever not loved any scene in a Albert Brooks movie where he snaps and gets frustrated about something.  But I have to say that the scene where Brooks is trying to find a job that pays $100k a year in a rural Arizona employment office is just about the all time perfect comedy scene.  

Lost in America at the IMDB

Lost in America at Wikipedia

Back to 200 Movies That Deserve More Love