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Episode 118 - Real Life (w/ Jason Zinoman)


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Poll: Episode 118 - Real Life (w/ Jason Zinoman) (25 member(s) have cast votes)

Should "Real Life" enter The Canon?

  1. Yes (15 votes [60.00%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 60.00%

  2. No (10 votes [40.00%] - View)

    Percentage of vote: 40.00%

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#1 Dalton Maltz

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Posted 03 September 2017 - 10:59 PM

Critic Jason Zinoman joins Amy this week to discuss Albert Brooks’ 1979 directorial debut, “Real Life.” Jason gives a brief history of the film’s comedic context before they dive into what “Real Life” predicted about reality TV, how it reflects Albert Brooks’ place in Hollywood, and what it got right about social satire.

#2 raz

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 10:59 AM

I had never seen this move before, and I was really disappointed. Albert Brooks and Charles Grodin put on some great performances, but I just didn't buy in to the rest of the cast. Some of the plot points seemed forced, and just didn't work for me. I did think that the entire opening sequence was fantastic at portraying spectacle and misdirection which does seem very relevant to today.

#3 Dale Cooper Black

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 12:43 PM

This was a fantastic episode, thanks! So many great points I'd like to comment on, but so little time at the moment. Here are a few quick thoughts off the top of my head:

Jabson did a bang-up job. Too bad you're on different coasts, because he is the best candidate yet for permanent co-host.

Brooks was definitely ahead of his time (and I think Steve Martin, David Letterman and Larry David would all happily acknowledge his influence), but this isn't necessarily a good thing from a career standpoint. In addition to being confined to the "cult status" ghetto, and watching your imitators go on to stratospheric success, you also run the risk of having your entire movie's premise rendered obsolete when the culture eventually catches up to you.

(Case in point: Lost In America. A middle-class couple lose their savings and end up living in a trailer park and working for a teenage manager at a fast food joint. A hilarious premise in 1985, a grim reality in 2017.)

This is actually a tough one for me. I am a huge fan of Brooks, but Real Life is not my favorite, and even my favorites haven't necessarily stood the test of time. (Plus it's hard for me to endorse a Canon that includes Real Life, but not Broadcast News.) But ultimately I think his genius needs to be acknowledged somewhere on this list, so it's a yes for me.

P.S. My Days of Thunder protest vote was absolutely made in jest, like that time I voted for Donald Trump. (Don't worry, it was in Canada, so it doesn't count.) Everybody knows the only Canon-worthy Tom Cruise movie is Interview with the Vampire.
Guy Fawkes in Socks

#4 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 01:54 PM

It's a reasonably enjoyable comedy, but like Amy I find that most of the best laughs are found in the first half, and it loses me somewhere along the way.

So is it culturally relevant enough to vote for? It's certainly a very early example of a certain kind of humor and a certain form of filmmaking (the mockumentary), but is it one of the key milestones of that form? I doubt this is more influential than, say, This Is Spinal Tap. It might have been made first, but that doesn't necessarily make it a touchstone. I can see an argument that Albert Brooks should be represented in the Canon, but it seems to me that something from his mid-career work (Lost in America, Defending Your Life, etc.) would be a better example.

Glad I saw this movie, but it's a no.

#5 Dicey Dice

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 07:28 PM

It starts to drag near the end? More like - it starts to drag near the beginning.
I vote no.

#6 HoldenMartinson

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 08:42 PM

I prefer Modern Romance by a mile, but this is still pretty terrific.

Albert Brooks FOREVER.

#7 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 04 September 2017 - 09:55 PM

If Albert Brooks were ever to be granted Canon consideration, I was hoping that it would be a versus episode, as to guarantee at least one of his classic films a spot. But Amy doesn't seem to be as passionate a fan as I am, so I find myself having to plead for Albert's case. Albert Brooks is on my personal Mount Rushmore of comedy. I think that while the subject matter he tackles is sometimes conventional, his voice is so unique that it finds new angles to explore of the simplest of stories. My personal favorite of his work is LOST IN AMERICA, which is essentially a neurotic Baby Boomer version of The Long Long Trailer. Again, the premise not all that unique, but his personality skews the tone into something wholly original. He does this treatment to the romantic comedy genre with MODERN ROMANCE and DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, two other favorites of mine.

Personally, I don't think that REAL LIFE is Brooks' best film, nor is it all that representative of the subsequent films that would follow. It wouldn't necessarily be my top choice for Canon inclusion, but I do think it's an important comedic entry nonetheless. While it's a much stranger and specific comedy than some of Brooks' later films, it is very representative of the surreal and experimental films he was making at that point of his career in the first few seasons of Saturday Night Live. Some of those, while not all successful, are some of the most original comedy premises to be introduced at that time. People didn't always quite know what to make of him, which I think continued with REAL LIFE. The fact that it's not universally beloved isn't all that much of an issue for me. It was tackling a subject that was still very new and doing it in such a strange, inside way that it probably turned some people off. REAL LIFE is Albert Brooks at his purest form. I feel like this wasn't given enough credit in the episode as being such a sharp satire of Hollywood itself. This may be the first film ever to point out the ridiculous notion of being forced to hire union members that aren't required for the film itself. Brooks' conversations with the head of the studio through the speaker phone is a perfect depiction of squabbling between old and new voices in the film industry, both of them cluelessly idiotic. The pride with which Brooks films a slow motion montage in an effort to appear to be as an artistic a filmmaker as the French. And watching him praise the people of the Arizona town (location of which chosen only because it's warmer than Wisconsin) because their ordinary lives are far more interesting than a Hollywood movie, only to then immediately condescend to the local rubes by doing a hammy lounge act. Even the brilliant trailer for the film makes fun of Hollywood's obsession with pandering gimmicks and presents its advertisement in 3-D. These are all things that no other comedic voices were really going after at the time, because perhaps the audience who would appreciate such pointed satire consisted of the very people he was trying to make fun of.

Many of Amy's criticisms are not entirely incorrect. The biggest laughs are front-loaded. After the visit to the gynecologist and the horse surgery, the film does slow down a bit. Almost all of Albert Brooks' films suffer a bit in their third acts. But perhaps it's also necessary for the film to slow down a bit to make its gloriously over the top ending even more ridiculous. I do think the film should get some points for tackling such a new topic of reality television. I've watched all of An American Family, and there are many direct references to it found in this film, which may also work against it somewhat. I don't think that REAL LIFE is a perfect film, or even one that is so iconic in and of itself that it should be let into The Canon on those terms alone. But it is the birth of Albert Brooks' film career, and a hilarious comedy at that. I love Jason's observation of Brooks not alway having actual jokes in his films, but how he can make an ordinary statement hilarious just in the tone of its telling. No matter how many times I hear the line "Only 6 of these cameras were ever made. Only 5 of them ever worked. We have 4 of those," I always break out into hysterics. It's not really a joke, is it? But the wording is so precisely crafted that I couldn't imagine such a line ever being written by another comedian. Not everything works in REAL LIFE, but 4 out of 6 ain't bad. I say we must make room for Albert Brooks in The Canon, in whatever way Jason Zinomen is willing to present to us.

#8 FictionIsntReal

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Posted 07 September 2017 - 06:01 PM

I vote no. It's lesser Brooks and lesser mockumentary.

#9 Cronopio

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Posted 09 September 2017 - 09:18 AM

If we were talking about Modern Romance or Lost in America I'd be voting yes, but although I admire the prescience of the movie's subject matter, I think the execution is not fully there yet.