Friday, December 22, 2017
DEFENDING YOUR LIFE (1991)
Written & Directed By: Albert Brooks
Cinematography By: Allen Daviau
Editor: David Finfer
Cast: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant, Buck Henry, James Eckhouse, Susan Walters, Mary Pat Gleason, Ethan Embry,
Yuppie Daniel Miller is killed in a car accident and goes to Judgment City, a waiting room for the afterlife. During the day, he must prove in a courtroom-style process that he successfully overcame his fears (a hard task, given the pitiful life we are shown); at night, he falls in love with Julia, the only other young person in town. Nights are a time of hedonistic pleasure, since you can (for instance) eat all you want without getting fat.
Watching this film is like going to see a concert by your favorite composer or musician. Where you love all of his work so far and at tonight's concert. They are performing the new material. You have been waiting so long to here. It starts off well. Hitting all those familiar chords then they hit a bad note. They apologize and then starts to play again. It's beautiful again they made that one mistake but you can forgive them after all no one is perfect. All is forgiven, everything is going fine but then twenty minutes later another bad note. Again they apologize and goes on but soon another bad note, then another. You can see them sweat and get nervous. You look around to see others reactions or are you the only person who noticed and are reacting. The rest of the audience is stone faced. Acting like nothing else is wrong as the performance goes on longer. The mistakes are coming more and more often, finally they finish and gets a standing ovation applause. You find yourself doing the same but questioning yourself. Are you a sheep? Does your enjoyment and love for then and their past work mean you are willing to take anything from them and smile for the offering? Even if you don't think it's their best. It's up to par but not as sharp. There is some brilliant stuff there between the bad notes that go on for extended stretches. That is some of the greatest stuff you have ever seen, but still you have your problems with the work some stuff just didn't work or need to be there, but you still love the artist.
That is what it is like watching this film. I love Albert brooks and his past work. He is like. A west coast Woody Allen only without the grand artistic ambition and not as nebbishly neurotic. When it comes to this film it has a dynamite premise that the more you watch it the more you will enjoy it as you notice more nuances. Though I saw this one before his later films. This one I had a few problems with. It's a good movie just not up to his usual flair. Where one has to ask am I grading him harder because I love his work so much of it's anything less than perfection it is a failure or am I grading too nicely since I am a fan and while it's not terrible it's passing even though others may argue and hate it completely. We'll never truly know but this is why you should always form your own opinion or study past reviews of the reviews you read to see if you truly are of the same mind when it comes to movies or whatever they are reviewing.
Albert Brooks should be more recognized for his comedic genius. Though it might be the dwindling nature of his later films that might keep him from being put up there with other classic comedy film auteurs. As his later films feel out of synch with the times. Where as films like these feel so tied in, that watching them later they seem not timely, but aged. Though at the time they had their finger on the pulse. He also doesn’t seem to have as many films that are celebrated as comedy classics. Many come close but then seem to lack something to push them over the top. The same happens here, as this might actually be his best remembered film overall.
Meryl Streep is so good in this. One of her more comedic roles where she comes off more relaxed than anything. Which gives her performance a certain comfort which matches the character she is playing. As her character is rather sweet and normal more like an average person. Which is rare to see Meryl Streep play. As his character doesn't have such an extreme emotional range and rage. She always usually seems so tailor made and styled, here she is loose and free.
The idea of looking back on your life and trying to judge certain moments from your life. Did you do the right thing? Wrong thing? What outcomes it had later on for all involved and it doesn't really favor one religion or spiritual belief it confines them All together except for maybe atheism to make limbo or the afterlife seem like a health club/spa vacation while the powers that be decide how you will proceed in your afterlife.
The cameo by Shirley MacLaine is divine and hilarious. One of the greatest comedic highlights of the film.
As I said before the film contains some brilliant stuff. But not all of it seems to work and some scenes feel bogged down. And unfortunately when Albert brooks misfires with a gag he not only misses. He hits the person standing next to him who the Weapon wasn't even pointed at. Is it a ricochet? Who knows?
It just feels like there are some ideas presented he could have gone further with to make it more of a grand comedy. Instead of a more mild or romantic one. As that is what the film comes across as a great comedy of ideas that doesn’t go far enough with it’s concept and seems happy sticking to it’s more miniscule one