Defending Your Life
Albert Brooks’s real birth name is Albert Einstein. No kidding! And his brother is Bob Einstein, better known as Super Dave Osborne, the world’s worst stunt man. Their father was a radio comedian, Harry Einstein, known as “Parkyakarkus,” who died during a Friar’s Club roast of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. You couldn’t make this stuff up!
Brooks has made several first-rate comedies, using his own quirky character who is not really a bad man, but one with serious insecurities that often lead him into questionable behavior, such as Real Life (which seems to be unavailable on DVD for some reason), and Lost in America. This film is his best. The premise is simple: When you die, you go to a place called Judgment City, which is a sort of Disneyland for the dead, with trams to take you around to the various hotels and other attractions. But what you’re there for is to be sort of put on trial for the things you’ve done in your life. There is no heaven or hell. If you win, you go on to “the next stage.” If you lose, you are reincarnated and have to try to do better and move up. There is a defense lawyer (Rip Torn, in a very funny performance) and a prosecutor (Lee Grant, sharp as a tack, known as the Dragon Lady). Wouldn’t that tighten up your asshole a bit, knowing you are going to be prosecuted by the Dragon Lady? Brooks’s life hasn’t been awful, but he squirms as he is shown scenes from it, and wouldn’t we all? Well, not Meryl Streep, who is a shoo-in for moving on. She’s in a better hotel, her life has been blameless, and she falls in love with Albert. It is hilariously funny, and cringeworthy, as much of his humor is. I don’t know about you, but I see myself in many of his jokes. And I don’t think I’m a bad person, it’s just that there are many, many things I wish I could go back to and do better this time. Don’t you? Well, if you don’t, I wish you well in the next stage. Highly recommended.