Lost in America- 1985

Albert Brooks…let me count the ways…This R-rated comedy, released in 1985, did not receive the reception it deserved. Keeping in mind, of course, the timing was probably bad considering the political climate of conservatism and the social climate of 80’s excess. That being said, Lost in America is a cautionary tale of be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

setting the tone (nzfilmsociety.org.nz)

Written and directed by Albert Brooks, with his co-writer Monica Johnson, and starring Julie Hagerty (Airplane!), Lost in America tells the tale of a upper middle class couple, bored with their life and longing for more. And boy, do they get it. Cinematically, the movie has almost a voyeur quality as in the opening sequence, the camera moves through a darkened house with boxes everywhere and you can hear the audio of a radio interview. Once we get to the bedroom of David Howard (Brooks) and his wife Linda Howard (Hagerty), the brilliant, and almost too real, dialogue begins. David is high-strung, narcissistic, and desperate to belong as well as appear to belong while Linda is the constant enabler reassuring him at every turn. The balance between Hagerty’s calming voice and Brooks’ neurotic, whiny tone is instrumental in making this movie work.

“I never really tasted toasted cheese until this moment!”

David is up for a promotion at work, every one tells him “he’s the best man”, only to discover in his boss’s office, that he is, in fact, the best man and Phil Shabano is the groom. David has been transferred to New York to work with Brad on the new Ford account. Naturally, because David feels he “deserves to be Senior Vice President and not transferred to just another account”, he responds poorly at the offer and gets himself fired. In the meantime, Linda has confided in her secretary the new house and the job promotion isn’t really going to change anything. She tells her “I sat on the floor in the new house and just starting shaking.”

He immediately runs to The Broadway department store where Linda works as head of personnel to convince her to quit her job. David is manic but is convinced to go home to talk about it later. At home, David goes down the list of assets and how much they would have (almost $200k!) if they pulled out of the new home, liquidated their assets, and sold their cars. They can “drop out just like in Easy Rider” and travel the country and if they land in Connecticut and have money left over, they can still buy the farmhouse…except in Easy Rider, they didn’t travel in a gas guzzling Winnebago, they rode motorcycles. But this the 80’s and David and Linda are yuppies, so…At the going away party, David asks Linda to renew their vows at their first stop– Las Vegas! It’s all down hill from there.

“22…22…come on 22…2…2…”

One bad decision after another leads David and Linda down a dark path of complete destruction of the nest egg and almost their relationship. From Linda losing it all (give or take a $1000) gambling at the Desert Inn, David pleading for the money back and being refused, arguing at the Hoover Dam–now to be fair to David’s character: he tells Linda not conserve money by not eating the food sold at the Dam. She responds by saying he should split the remainder of the money, keep his half, and giver her half so she can spend it however she wants concluded with, “I think it’s the fair thing to do.” I was like WHAT?! The fair thing? YOU just lost the entire nest egg gambling! Which is exactly how David responds.

“You’re no longer allowed the use the words nest egg”

After more unfortunate moments between them, they decide to stop at a town in Arizona and call it home. They each set out for jobs, not telling each other about the jobs as to “not jinx it”. David becomes a crossing guard and is verbally abused by three adolescents riding bicycles while Linda becomes the assistant manager of DerWeinerschnitzel after realizing the inside of the fries they are still frozen. They quickly realize after getting these jobs, well below their level of status and education, requiring name tags and uniforms, the life they had before dropping out was better than their bored yuppie brains thought. David suggests it may not be too late to take a chance on New York and Linda agrees. They make it (even getting a prime parking space right in front of the building!), much to New York Brad’s dismay, and settle back into their yuppie existence.

Some may not find this movie hilarious as this suggests you will be laughing constantly; however, you will laugh. The dialogue is so real and the scenes are set in a way to make you a bit uncomfortable. I’m sure people dream of selling everything and traveling the country in a Winnebago when the stress of not getting the raise or promotion you think you deserve or when life is just so boring you don’t know how to cope. I would caution them with this movie as even the best laid plans can go awry. The patronizing tone of David as he interacts with Linda and those around him can be a bit acidic but it rings true of his character. You may recognize yourself or someone you know in the characters of this film. I know I did.

Watch the trailer here: https://images.app.goo.gl/uHXBrAvzne4ejtmU7

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