The Films of Albert Brooks
Lost in America
Defending Your Life (December 5/16)
Albert Brooks' best movie, Defending Your Life follows Daniel Miller (Brooks) as he dies and is sent to a purgatory-like Judgment City - where he and his attorney (Rip Torn's Bob Diamond) attempt to make a case for Daniel moving onto the next phase of existence. (If he loses, Daniel will be sent back to earth and reincarnated.) Complicating matters is Daniel's burgeoning relationship with a fellow defender (Meryl Streep's Julia), with the movie primarily detailing the characters' exploits and their growing affection for one another. It's a decidedly off-the-wall premise that's employed to consistently captivating and frequently hilarious effect by Brooks, as the writer/director does an absolutely superb job of initially establishing the central characters and eventually placing them in one irresistibly engrossing scenario after the next. And while the movie is rife with hilarious sequences and interludes (eg Daniel and Julia visit the Past Lives Pavilion, Daniel must relive humiliating life decisions during the trial, etc, etc), Defending Your Life benefits substantially from Brooks' keen ear for sharp, funny dialogue and his ability to transform both his and Streep's respective characters into figures worth caring about and rooting for (and it doesn't hurt, certainly, that the actors possess a great deal of romantic chemistry together). The blatantly feel-good conclusion admittedly does feel a little out of place within Brooks' sarcastic, sardonic world, and yet, in addition to ensuring that the movie ends on a positive note, the finale ultimately does jibe with the somewhat idealistic nature of the romantic bond between Daniel and Julia - which, in turn, cements Defending Your Life's place as a memorable, seemingly ageless high-concept comedy.
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