In Lost in America, Albert Brooks is so hyperactive that it doesn’t take very long for him to spread all that infectious energy through the screen to the viewer. Now that’s the sign of a good actor. Some may find this annoying, but if you keep an open mind, you’ll find yourself enjoying the film, just like I did. Brooks, who also directed the film, is in peak form here. It’s one of his strongest films and finds a good place somewhere in the middle of Modern Romance, Real Life (his debut film), Defending Your Life and Mother. It’s a well-written, amusing and thought-provoking satire.
Brooks plays David Howard, an advertising executive and Julie Hagerty as his wife Linda Howard who works for a department store. When David loses that long overdue and well-deserved (he thinks) promotion to someone else, he is furious. He then insults his boss and gets fired. But on account of the odd wiring in his brain, he thinks this is the right time to go roaming around the country, Easy Rider style, with Linda — only they won’t be riding motorcycles, but instead, make the trip with the help of an RV. He is so excited about this idea that he asks her to quit. And she does, despite her initial hesitation.
Here’s their plan: They’ll sell all of their possessions, including their car and their house, and gather their retirement savings, their “nest egg”, and go see the “real America”, “discover themselves”, buy a cheap ranch somewhere and finally live happily ever after. Yes, it’s a comedy, but a lot of unpredictable things happen that otherwise belong in a serious movie about desperation and despair. These people thought they could recreate and apply the hippie lifestyle to yuppies, but this ain’t the ’60s. They soon realize that they are not Dennis Hopper and Henry Fonda and that they are more miserable now than they were before.
The characters in Easy Rider were built for such an undertaking because they came from a different background. David and Linda will learn the hard way that they were much better off doing what they did before, regardless of how boring or frustrating their yuppie lifestyle seemed. They were actually good at it. Brooks has done a good amount of comedies as well as thrillers, and he does both with equal ease. He specialized in a different brand of comedy which is not laugh-out-loud but gets you so invested in it nevertheless. Sometimes you do laugh with your mouth, but most of the time it’s your brain that does the laughing. The film is now out on Criterion in both DVD and Blu-ray.