Real Life (1979) and Modern Romance (1981)

03/19/2008 12:00 AM |

In his most recent flop director Albert Brooks went Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. Someone should have told him he was in the wrong place. As a character actor Brooks is quite nimble, equally convincing at New England decency (Broadcast News) and Manhattan smarm (Taxi Driver). But as a filmmaker his talent is strictly for representing yuppie louts, which are after all the Angelino’s hometown varietal. Anthology’s double bill — Real Life (1979) and Modern Romance (1981) — is proof that Brooks was burrowing deep into the psychology of SoCal Jewish male narcissism decades before Curb Your Enthusiasm had you cringing (Brooks’s brother, Bob Einstein, plays Marty Funkhauser on that show).

If you’ve never seen it, Real Life may surprise you with its prescient awareness that reality TV is a genre built for false consciousness. Brooks plays a Hollywood comedian directing a documentary about the quotidian days of the Yeagers, a suburban Arizona family. The brood is sniping and preening as soon as the cameras start rolling, led by veterinarian paterfamilias Charles Grodin (who, in a rewind-worthy scene, botches a horse surgery). The overarching joke isn’t the lengths people will go to be stars, but what the culture industry will stoop to in order to exploit them.

Less topical than Real Life, Modern Romance is every bit as up to date about our national mores. Film editor Brooks (he’s cutting a science fiction picture starring 1970s disaster staple George Kennedy) can stay neither together nor broken up with his foxy lady (Kathryn Harrold). Indecision in eros has never been funnier than in a single long take of what must be the world’s briefest rebound date.

March 26-April 1 at Anthology Film Archives