#887 Lost in America
1985 // USA // Albert Brooks
Criterion Collection (LINK)
Breaking the American Dream
With the four Albert Brooks directed films I have watched, they’re either high concept film which I appreciate (Real Life and Defending Your Life) or simply decent one that I don’t care much about once it ends (Modern Romance), and Lost in America is the latter. Yes the film is delightful and wittily written, but I hardly chuckled a few time and I could only blame myself for not being the target audience. They are simply not my ‘type’ of comedy. Indeed I would possibly enjoy more if I viewed Lost in America as a scenario drama instead of a modern American comedy.
It is the theme of deconstruction and the anticipated destruction of the so-called white American dream that I’m on board with at the beginning, not the humor in witnessing the humiliation the characters stumbled upon that they are partly responsible for, otherwise it would be another Hangover film. But that kinds of humiliation are necessary to transcend the film into an allegory, as the narcissistic, naively acted bourgeoise dreaming of breaking the prison of capitalism but defeatedly crawling back at the end. The high-paid advertising job belonging to the “$100,000 box” is not enough for David (Albert Brooks) to compensate his humiliation of not getting the promotion he consistently thought he has, out of anguish he quits his job, or gets fired depends on how you view the scenario. He persuades his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) to quit her job too, sell their apartment and live an “Easy Rider” style in a Winnebago motor car travelling across the country and “touching Indians,” in short “dropping out of society.”
Like screwball comedy, their journey goes straight to chaos once they stop at not any other places but Las Vegas. Money, the foundation of capitalism and their “nest egg”, are all lost except $800 by Linda’s neurotic gambling breakdown. And foreseeably they quarrel afterwards, break up and then restore their relationship. As much as David scolds for Linda’s ludicrous behaviour, it’s understandably a feedback mechanism for the over abundance of burden in Linda’s marriage and work life. Selling the property is inadequate, only after loosing all the money she could get a relief from the anxiety and stress. Does David understand any of this? His idolising way of lifestyle is just a retreat from facing the failure, his acts of following the counterculture lack political reason and basically underestimate the reality.
Albert Brooks satirises the situation, often making the characters going in circle or simply taking a U-turn in denouement. In Real Life (1979) Brooks the director attempts to capture reality by documenting a middle class family but intrudes every possible way, turning reality into altered drama; in Modern Romance (1981) the on-again-off-again relationship between Brooks and his girlfriend underplays the obsessive desire of male control; herein David works from a high salary white collar to a crossing guard being tormented by the boorish kids and back to his New York position again. It’s the story of a white American bursting the bubble of American dream, they are as lost as other egotistical fools who elect Trump as their new President thirty years later. The film’s underlining subtext is much more fascinating than the treatment itself, the humor is present but I find them personally detached and unfulfilling. The dream of freeing oneself from society could be much more subversive and provoking, Brooks takes the premise but ends it modestly, and I desire more.