Friday, July 26, 2013

The Best Films I Have Never Seen Before: Modern Romance (1981)

Modern Romance (1981)
Directed by: Albert Brooks.
Written by: Albert Brooks & Monica Johnson.
Starring: Albert Brooks (Robert Cole), Kathryn Harrold (Mary Harvard), Bruno Kirby (Jay), Jane Hallaren (Ellen), Bob Einstein (Sporting Goods Salesman), James L. Brooks (David), George Kennedy (Himself and Zeron).

The characters that Albert Brooks write for himself are among the most self involved in movie history. From Real Life (1979) to Lost in America (1985) to Defending Your Life (1991) to Mother (1996) to The Muse (1999) to Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (2006), Brooks is essentially playing a man who is constantly second guessing every decision he makes. He is fully committed to making the decision until he makes it, and then analyzes it to death until he realizes he made a mistake, and then tries to go back and undo what he’s done – and this starts the process all over again. There is obviously an element to Brooks himself in these characters – hell twice, he has even played characters named Albert Brooks – because I think Brooks always wants to do the right thing, but is never really sure what the hell that is.

No where is this more true than in Brooks second film, Modern Romance. Brooks plays Robert Cole, a successful film editor working on what looks like a horrible movie starring George Kennedy and directed by David (James L. Brooks, who would give Albert one of the best roles of his career in Broadcast News). In the films first scene, Brooks has broken up – again – with his longtime girlfriend Mary (Kathryn Harrold). She is frustrated that once again, Robert has broken up with her, and tells him not to call this time. Robert says don’t worry about it – and than immediately starts to worry that he has made the wrong decision.

The first half of the film is pretty much Brooks, wandering around his apartment, bitching on the phone to his assistant editor, going shopping, and going over and over his decision to break up with Mary to determine if he was right or wrong. At times, it is nearly a one man show, and Brooks nails it perfectly. There is a brilliant, hilarious scene in a sporting goods store where the salesman (Bob Einstein, Brooks’ brother and best known as Super Dave Osborne), convinces him to buy the top of the line running gear. But no matter Robert does, he cannot shake the feeling that he made a mistake in breaking up with Mary. The next day, of course, the two of them get back together. The second half of the film pretty much details why Robert and Mary shouldn’t be together. He’s insecure and jealous. She’s cold and distant. They do nothing but argue, no matter where they are or what they’re doing.

The star of the show is of course, Brooks. Harrold does a fine job with Mary, but it’s more of a one note character. The supporting cast – Bruno Kirby as the assistant editor, James L. Brooks as the director and George Kennedy as himself – allow Brooks to poke fun at movie making, and in this he mines some great laughs (I loved the scene where Brooks has to add louder footsteps to the sound mix).

I think in the end, Brooks’ films are basically about how he needs to get over himself – accept his flaws and the flaws of others in order to be happy. But Brooks will never be happy, because he’ll never be able to do that. I tire of movies that put up end titles that explain what happens to the characters after the movie is over – but in Modern Romance, they work brilliantly.

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