Josh Reviews Albert Brooks: Defending My Life
Albert Brooks: Defending My Life is a joyous salute to the life and work of Albert Brooks, directed by his friend Rob Reiner. Albert Brooks, of course, is a comedy god, and Mr. Reiner is no slouch himself (having directed some of my all-time favorite movies, including When Harry Met Sally, This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, The Princess Bride, and many more).
The film is structured around a long conversation between Mr. Brooks and Mr. Reiner, seated across a table from one another in a restaurant. As the conversation tracks the progress of Mr. Brooks’ life (starting with the unbelievable but true fact that his birth name was Albert Einstein) and comedy career, we’re treated to an array of extensive clips from Mr. Brooks’ work, and we hear from such notable names as Jon Stewart, Chris Rock, Steven Spielberg, Larry David, James L. Brooks, Jonah Hill, Ben Stiller, and many more.
I’m an enormous Albert Brooks fan. I fell in love with his movies first (Modern Romance made a big impact on me when I saw it for the first time), then I found my way to his SNL short films, then to his amazing comedy albums, and on from there.
As such, watching this documentary was a joy. There’s nothing revelatory in the form or structure of this documentary. But that’s OK. It’s fun to get to listen to this pleasant conversation between two long-time friends, and it’s a joy to dip into all the many wonderful nooks and corners of Mr. Brooks’ career.
I had to pause the film because I was laughing so hard at the extensive array of clips from Mr. Brooks’ brilliant performances on late-night talk shows. If you haven’t seen any of these performances, you owe it to yourself to track them down. They are comedy gold. (I’m particularly fond of the routine in which he pretended to be a very chatty mime… or the speak and spell bit… or the one where Mr. Brooks pretends to be a lion tamer… or the one with his food home impressions kit…) I loved that the film spent a nice amount of time spotlighting all of those brilliant, innovative bits.
Albert Brooks’ first four movies — Real Life, Modern Romance, Lost in America, and Defending Your Life — are each, in my opinion, brilliant and way ahead of their time works of comedy goal. The film gives each of those films its due. (It’s particularly clear how influential Modern Romance was in stand-up comics of a certain generation.) The film charts Mr. Brooks’ acting performances in other films (most notably Broadcast News and Drive), as well as his iconic voice-acting performance as Marlin in Finding Nemo. We hear about the important role Mr. Brooks played in the start of Saturday Night Live (an important piece of comedy history that I’m glad the film took the time to make note of), and we get a few glimpses (though I’d have loved more) of Mr. Brooks’ wonderfully weird and silly short films that he made for SNL in those early days of the show. We also get a few fun minutes spent looking at Mr. Brooks’ recent appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
If you’re a fan of Albert Brooks — as I hope anyone reading this is — this sweet and funny documentary is a lot of fun to watch.
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