DVD Review: Lost in America

STUDIO: Criterion | DIRECTOR: Albert Brooks | CAST: Albert Brooks, Julie Hagerty, Garry Marshall, Michael Greene, Raymond Gideon, Maggie Roswell
RELEASE DATE: 7/25/17 | PRICE: DVD $23.96, Blu-ray $31.96
BONUSES: New interview with Albert Brooks, Julie Hagerty, executive producer Herb Nanas, and director James L. Brooks
SPECS: R | 91 min. | Comedy | 1.85:1 widescreen | mono | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

Albert Brooks has been a “comedian’s comedian” for as long as he’s been in show business. This has meant that his TV appearances, his two albums and most importantly his seven films have been beloved by other comics and comedy buffs but not exactly embraced by the public. Lost in America was one of the few times that Brooks’ deadpan, razor-sharp humor did cross over successfully into the mainstream — it was a small but solid hit on the multiplex circuit.

Released in 1985, the film was a perfect creation of the Reagan era: the tale of a dissatisfied yuppie couple who “drop out” of society while holding on to their materialist lifestyle, until both of them crack under the “pressure” of nonconformity. It may not be Brooks’ best film — 1979’s Real Life and 1981’s Modern Romance are more radically unique films — but it certainly is the best entry point for those unfamiliar with his work.

In his finest work Brooks has adopted an abrasive confrontational comedic presence — perhaps this is why he has made far fewer films than the less “dangerous” Woody Allen. At one point in Lost in America Brooks warns a coworker “Shut up, Brad – your song stunk, I hate your suit, and I could hurt you!” and we believe it.

He also has been too brilliant for his own good. For instance, one watches Lost today realizing it could have easily been a longer film, or even a pilot for a TV series. One of Brooks’ most vocal fans in the industry, Judd Apatow, has made two-hour comedies that didn’t have a small percentage of the laughs found in this fast-moving, 91-minute farce. The film’s storyline is closer to the classic plots of Preston Sturges’ pictures than it is to the comedy vehicles that flood into movie theaters each weekend.

David (Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) are fed up with their boring lifestyle and so “drop out” by buying a motor home and deciding to drive across country. The pair is comfortable financially, thus less relatable to most viewers, but that changes on their first night in Las Vegas, when Linda compulsively gambles until she loses all of their savings. The pair argue for a bit, but they then decide to “rough it” and take whatever jobs they can get — leading to them working two minimum-wage jobs that make them pine for their former lifestyle.

One can easily imagine the above as the premise for a series, running several seasons on a cable network, but Brooks delivers the goods and leaves us wanting more. He also places the film’s most subversive moment at the opening: We hear a Larry King radio interview with movie critic Rex Reed, complaining about how awful modern movie comedies are (Reed had panned Albert’s preceding two films).

Brooks doesn’t supply an audio commentary, but is instead interviewed in a visual supplement by director Robert Weide (TV’s Curb Your Enthusiasm). For all of his comic genius, Albert is a very serious individual and is surprisingly somber during the interview. Weide covers a lot of ground with his questions, starting off with Albert’s father (the dialect comedian “Parkyakarkus,” aka Harry Einstein), and the weird trajectory of Brooks’ early career, in which he went from TV bookings as a stand-up on variety shows to performing live (his friendship with Rob Reiner and Rob’s dad Carl initially propelled his career).

Brooks discusses how he searched at first for another actor to play the lead, but his main choice, Bill Murray, was unavailable. He also reveals that while the mobile home moves eastward from L.A. to NYC in the film, the shoot was done backwards, with the NYC sequence shot first and then the many cities in between.

Perhaps the most interesting thing discussed is the fact that the best-remembered speech in the film – in which David lectures Linda, forbidding her from using the phrase “nest egg” – was added after initial screenings of the film found audiences disliking Linda for having lost the couple’s money. Thus Brooks added scenes in which his character gets angrier and angrier and Hagerty’s gets more and more apologetic, and audiences were able to like her again.

In an engaging but far less essential interview, Brooks’ manager Herb Nanas (who served as executive producer on Lost) talks about his longtime fondness for Albert and the time that he, Herb, briefly drove the motor home and sliced off its side.

Julie Hagerty shares her pleasant memories of the film in another new interview. Having worked with Woody Allen (in 1982’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy) and the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team (in 1980’s Airplane!), she could offer valuable insights about the differences between the filmmakers, but she veers away from that to talk about her onscreen chemistry with Brooks.

Brooks’s friend James L. Brooks (no relation), discusses what it was like to direct Albert (in 1987’s Broadcast News) and be directed by him (in Modern Romance). His interview is the best supplement in the package, as Brooks does a great job of analyzing Lost in America and Albert’s style of direction in general.

Albert is not an overly visual director, but James L. discusses the camera language in Lost that reflects the character’s situation, especially in the early sequences, when he feels boxed in by his job at the ad agency.

James L. also explores what is at the root of Albert’s comedy, saying (in an understated manner) that he goes to “a place that’s not quite comfortable.” He also supplies the perfect epitaph for Lost and all of Albert’s best work by stressing how funny it is, but then adding that it’s “always so fucking smart!”


Buy or Rent Lost in America

About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”