Title: Defending Your Life
Director: Albert Brooks (Real Life, Modern Romance, Lost in America)
Writer: Albert Brooks
Stars: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn
The Story: A middle-aged schlub gets hit by a bus and finds himself in a Disneyland-like afterlife, where he’s put on trial to defend his long record of bad decisions.
How it Came to be Underrated: Like Lost in America, this was another Brooks film that didn’t find a find much of an audience outside of his regular fans.
Why It’s (almost) Great:
- This was Brooks’s first movie without his long-time co-writer Monica Goodman, and it's less lively than his first three. Seeing it again, I found it a little pokey, but it’s wonderfully pleasant and thought-provoking. In the end, it’s a good movie based on a great idea.
- Especially after re-watching Doubt, it was great to see Streep getting a rare chance to be funny and sexy. She’s just as good at playing a big ball of sunshine as she is being a black hole of judgment.
- Brooks gives some of the best dialogue to Rip Torn’s glad-handing afterlife defense attorney. Brooks asks, “So I’m on trial for being afraid?” Torn responds, “First of all, I don’t like to call it a trial. Second of all, yes.” Later, he helpfully tries to reassure Brooks: “You wouldn’t understand. Oh, I don’t mean that as an insult, I mean it literally.”
- What powers the movie is the underlying guilt of modern-day consumer-driven society. Brooks fears that one day he’ll finally have to ask himself the most dreadful question of all: “Am I just a boob?” How could we ever justify our mundane existence? We know we’re supposed to care about justice, but we really just care about going to the Sizzler.
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Streep didn’t get another chance to be this relaxed until Adaptation. Brooks doesn’t just write and direct, he’s also acted in some great movies for other directors, such as Broadcast News.
How Available Is It?: The Watch Instantly version is unfortunately “pan n’ scan”. I don’t know about the dvd.
(Thanks to Progressive Ruin)