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Lost in America

My mission with Woody Allen is to fill in all the gaps in my film knowledge.  See as much as I can that I haven’t seen or appreciated before.  There are numerous filmmakers and films that deserve this treatment and as everyone else does, I have fairly big gaps in my film repertoire.  One of those is Albert Brooks.  In fact, Lost in America may be the first Brooks film I’ve ever seen.  I’ve seen films he’s starred in such as Broadcast News, Out of Sight, and, most recently, Drive.  But this is the first one I’ve seen that he has written and directed.  I’ve even read his recent novel, 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America, a “would be funnier if it all didn’t feel so true” satire of the future of America.    But Brooks’ actual films as filmmakers have alluded me for one reason or another.  Maybe when I’m done trolling through Allen’s filmography, I’ll move on to Brooks’.

Lost in America is quite genuinely funny and hilarious.  A sharp look, not at America per se, but the greed and fulfillment of the American dream that drives all Americans.  Brooks plays an ad man who, in protest of not receiving a promotion but being handed a large account and being told to move to New York, quits and decides to drop out of civilization with his wife.   What that means exactly is hardly clear.  Frequent mentions of Easy Rider and pursuing artistic endeavors such as painting and writing come up but it’s difficult to ascertain what they mean by that and I don’t think the characters do either.

Julie Haggerty and Albert Brooks have great chemistry as the harried married couple trying to make their way through the country in their luxury Winnebago but are soon waylaid when Haggerty’s character gambles away the entire nest egg at their first stop, Las Vegas.  Here lies the great contradiction that is the heart of the film.  These characters choose to “drop out” from American society but do so with the giant safety net that is their nest egg, gathered from their savings and the sale of many of their personal items.

From high paying executive job to well off vagabond, the film counters that these Los Angeles yuppies can’t make it without the luxuries that come with being part of that successful upper middle class society.  They live in a Winnebago with a fancy microwave and they’re travelling throughout the country with no worry for money, unlike the majority of the country.  But once all that money is gone, the solutions dry up.  They find little to no recourse other than getting menial jobs which only point to how well they had it.

This is a film about Americans who lost their way and find themselves back to that great capitalistic need and Brooks keeps the tone snide and snarky throughout.  The film glides gracefully from one stand out scene to the next that are both hilarious and insightful in the way it drags down the naïve and greedy world view of these characters trying to “drop out”, whatever that’s supposed to mean.  The ending feels a bit rushed as if it’s trying to meet its conclusion before the audience does but everything that occurs before it makes cements this film as a classic comedy.

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