Lost in America (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Living in a winnebago.

            David Howard (Albert Brooks) becomes upset when he doesn’t get his expected promotion and decides the corporate life isn’t for him and that he and his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) will drop-out by liquidating all of their assets, buying a Winnebago, and roaming the countryside as free-spirits. Things go horribly wrong right from the start when, in a fit of gambling fever, Linda loses their entire savings at the roulette wheel. This forces David and Linda to desperately look for jobs in the first small town they come to.

The concept is fantastic. Who hasn’t dreamed of doing this at one time or another? Reportedly top executives who saw the film admitted having these very same fantasies at some point. In many ways this film is perfect testament to the 80’s where everything seemed to backtrack to the materialism and conformity of past eras and the idealism of the 60’s became lost. Writer-director Brooks plays it in a realistic and believable way with just enough subtle comedy to bring out the absurdity in each situation, which is what makes it fun.  Had the characters been over-the-top it wouldn’t have worked.

The dry, cynical wit that is Brooks’s signature is in full swing here. It may be an acquired taste to some, but it is distinct and hilarious for those that enjoy it. Some of the best moments include David’s funny rant when he tells off his boss and demands that the company give back the eight years he invested into it and won’t leave until it does. There are amusing conversations between David and the casino owner (Gary Marshall in an excellent cameo) where he begs him to give back the money Linda lost as well as his visit to an employment agency. The couple’s argument at the Hoover Dam is another highlight as is his lecture to Linda about the ‘nest egg’ concept. However, the funniest scene that had me literally laughing out of my seat was when David takes a job as a crossing guard for $5.50 an hour and some ten-year-old boys start to mock him. Even the little things, like when David tells a hotel clerk that they did not make reservations because they have ‘dropped-out of society’ and ‘just living for the moment’ is funny when done with Brooks’s impeccable deadpan delivery.

Julie Hagerty is so ingrained in my mind for her appearance in the cult-classic Airplane that I had a hard time adjusting to her here. Initially, when she is shown in the corporate setting and acting as a serious, responsible adult, I felt it didn’t work because I kept expecting her to say, especially with that high-pitched voice of hers, something dippy and spacey like her character in Airplane always did. However, when she gambles away their savings by incessantly screaming out the number twenty-two she is hilarious and when David lectures her afterwards and she looks up at him with that blank, blue-eyed, deer-in-headlights stare, she is perfect and the casting astute.

The opening sequence is probably the only part that doesn’t work. Having a taped audio interview between talk show host Larry King and film critic Rex Reed played over the opening credits is certainly novel, but David’s prolonged, whiny conversation with Linda while in bed is annoying.  A scene involving a conversation between Linda and a co-worker could have been cut. There is also the fact that everything goes downhill too quickly making the viewer feel almost cheated. It would have been nice to have seen them living the hippie lifestyle for a while and then have the problems begin gradually. There could’ve been a lot of great comedy had it been played straight without the irony of the money problem. Either way it’s entertaining, but brief. Hearing the entire rendition of ‘New York, New York’ by Frank Sinatra is worth the price as is the sight of seeing a giant Winnebago driving up a busy, downtown Manhattan street.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 15, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Rated R (For a Couple of ‘F-Bombs’)

Director: Albert Brooks

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

3 responses to “Lost in America (1985)

  1. Albert Brooks shining moment, his best film. A must-see. Defending Your Life a close second. The Muse and Mother tied for third. He missed the mark entirely with the Muslim one, but either way, Brooks will always be under-recognized and under-appreciated.

    • Don’t forget ‘Real Life’ and if you haven’t seen it give it I try as I think you will like it. Brooks does a very funny take-off on The Loud Family a famous documentary from 1973 called ‘The American Family’ that aired on PBS and was about a camera crew capturing a supposedly ‘normal’ family during their daily routine.

  2. A winning and charming comedy like they can’t make anymore.

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