Albert Brooks: Defending My Life Review
Albert Brooks: Defending My Life (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Rob Reiner and starring Albert Brooks, Judd Apatow, James L. Brooks, Larry David, Rob Reiner, Nikki Glaser, Alana Haim, Jonah Hill, Conan O’Brien, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Steven Spielberg, Ben Stiller, Sharon Stone, Wanda Sykes and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
One of the funniest talents showcased in comedy movies of the 1980’s and 1990’s was the incomparable Albert Brooks. A new documentary called Albert Brooks: Defending My Life traces the life of Brooks from his childhood all the way through almost every major project the acclaimed actor/comedian/writer/director took on.
Born Albert Einstein, it was, needless to say, necessary to change his name. Brooks started out as a comedian who made regular appearances on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and pioneered the formatting which was eventually used by “Saturday Night Live.” Directed by Rob Reiner (who also conducts the central interview with Brooks in the new documentary), Albert Brooks: Defending My Life is an engaging look inside the life of one of the most talented comic actors of all-time.
Reiner and Brooks are lifelong friends who have a history that started when they were young. This documentary feels like a couple of friends getting together to reminisce over old times. For fans of L.A.’s answer to Woody Allen, Brooks, Reiner’s movie is informative and intriguing although it becomes a bit more interesting when it tackles the backstories behind some films I adore such as The Muse, Mother and Defending Your Life, all from the 1990’s. Brooks has some of the finest comedic talents in show business speaking on his behalf in the documentary from Chris Rock to Sarah Silverman to Wanda Sykes. Even Alana Haim who was so brilliant in Licorice Pizza gets to speak out on how inspiring Brooks’ work was to her.
This new film gives glimpses inside some of the characteristics of Brooks’ films which were lifted from his personal life. Modern Romance was one of Brooks’ first and most admired projects and Ben Stiller speaks out in the new documentary about how it set the standard for romance for Stiller when he was dating. Brooks may have seemed a bit pessimistic in his early years when it came to the topic of dating and that point certainly comes across when we examine some of his films. In 1996’s Mother, Brooks cast Debbie Reynolds as his mom who had given up a writing career to raise her kids. Brooks took a look at a parent’s sacrifice in that film which, although hysterical, had some bittersweet moments that certainly rang true to life.
Defending Your Life is, perhaps, the most interesting of Brooks’ cinematic work since it dealt with the afterlife. Meryl Streep co-starred with Brooks in a love story about a couple of people who meet while trying to stand behind the choices they made when they were alive. In the documentary, Brooks discusses in detail his views on what he hopes could happen when he dies and audiences will learn what made the project, Defending Your Life, one of his stand-out movies. Let’s not forget 1985’s Lost in America before that which was also a work of genius.
Brooks was an actor who started performing in serious movies in the 1970’s with Taxi Driver and Brooks came close to an Oscar nomination for his fine villain turn in Drive in 2011. Brooks has a long resume of character roles that showed range that went far beyond his talents as a comic. It was his voice-over work in Finding Nemo which would eventually become his most financially successful motion picture although the documentary doesn’t mention how huge that Disney animated movie truly was for him.
Also noteworthy is when the documentary explores Brooks’ eventual marriage and how he came to meet his wife and start a family. It’s definitely fun to see his family on-screen as we learn Brooks’ son got scared when he saw Finding Nemo for the first time and learned of the death of the mother fish in the movie.
The comedy skits the new film displays could seem unusual to those who are unfamiliar with Brooks’ work and it’s debatable if some of his stand-up is still as funny now as it was back then but Brooks’ movies definitely hold up even today. Broadcast News is another work of genius and it’s fascinating to learn how Brooks came to create his character who has a hilarious sweating episode while on the air in a major scene within the movie. Director James L. Brooks also reminds us that Albert Brooks worked on “The Simpsons” as well. Sharon Stone from The Muse even appears to reveal she accepted her part in that movie without even reading the script which did, admittedly, turn out to be brilliant.
Albert Brooks shouldn’t have to defend his life as much as he’s had to during the course of his career. His work speaks for itself, especially his cinematic work. Even more than his stand-up, the movies Brooks made are among the most enjoyable, funny films ever made. Film critic Gene Siskel used to eagerly look forward to Brooks’ films and when they stopped, it somehow felt a bit premature. I sort of wish he made one more movie as a writer/director but even if he didn’t, his career was one that was absolutely amazing. Watching Reiner and Albert Brooks shoot the breeze and reminisce is very entertaining and quite funny so this documentary is certainly recommended viewing.
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