January 11, 2014

Lost in America

Lost in America (1985) is about a successful L.A. ad man (played by Albert Brooks, who also directed the film) who quits his job and then buys a motor-home so he and his wife (Julie Hagerty) can travel the country and find themselves. It left me disappointed because I'd heard such good reviews. Within about thirty minutes my mood for the film had gone from hopeful to sour. (It happened at precisely the moment where Hagerty is gambling in the casino, repeating the number "22" over and over again, and Brooks is asking, repeatedly, how much money she's lost.) Perhaps this movie resonates better with people in the shoes of these two characters: they're frustrated yuppies who love the movie Easy Rider but didn't have the courage to go riding into the sunset when they were younger. Now that they've spent the better part of a decade building up a sense of financial security (the concept of the "nest egg" is bandied about often, but never with as much comic force as Brooks seems to think it contains), they're bored and disappointed with the normal life, and feeling a bit left out of the not-so-real idea of people just leaving society and doing their own thing. Hagerty's unexpected gambling splurge becomes a plot device so that Brooks, who wrote the script, can critique the yuppies, not only for their banal materialistic lives, but also for their condescending attitudes about Americans who aren't like them. And while the performances are good and the ideas interesting and clever, Lost in America feels like flat coke: the comedy doesn't really work much of the time, and the charm of Brooks and Hagerty slowly drains out of them as their characters' actions become increasingly irritating. The final twenty minutes picks up a bit--as they soon realize the gravity of their decisions--but not in time to save the movie from feeling a bit inconsequential. It's a smart comedy, and relatively well-plotted if you can forgive that very obvious device, but its ideas are stronger than its laughs.

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