By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Ordinary family reality show.
Albert Brooks plays Albert Brooks a hot shot young filmmaker determined to make a splash by filming a regular American family in their home and capturing everything that they do. The idea is for the family to go about their daily lives as if the cameras aren’t really there and then record their interactions. Things though go off-kilter almost immediately, which sends Brooks into a panic as he fears his movie won’t be entertaining enough and forcing him to compromise the project by instilling outside influences in order to make the movie more commercially viable.
This is another film that gets listed in the book ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die’, but I’m not sure why. I’ll admit when I first saw it over 30 years ago it struck me as being quite irreverent and edgy at least the beginning, but the second half fades as Brooks loses sight of the main theme and writes himself into a hole. This results in a lot of tired jokes that focuses too much on the filmmaker and not the family.
The idea is based off of the documentary called ‘An American Family’, which was broadcast on PBS from January to May of 1973. This is where a filmmaking crew followed around the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California for 7 months in 1971 and filmed everything that went on between them. The idea was not to sensationalize anything, but instead have it work as an educational program examining the dynamics of how a typical American family works. Although things started out normal it soon began to unravel when the wife asked for a divorce and the couple’s 20 year-old son suddenly came out as gay. All these things were unexpected and many critics felt it was the presence of the cameras that brought them out.
Unfortunately this film misses the mark by having the family’s unraveling occur almost immediately and therefore not taking advantage of a prime comedic arch. The family members also lack any discernable personality and proceed to just get more boring as the film progresses. Certain darkly humorous moments like the scene where the father, played by Charles Grodin, performs a botched operation on a horse as part of his veterinarian practice are not funny at all and instead quite disturbing especially since a real horse was used.
The audience comes into this thing expecting to see a story about a family, but instead gets bombarded with Brooks whose sarcastic personality is only tolerable in small doses. The intended satire of a popular TV-series morphs into scenes of a narcissist filmmaker endlessly whining about his anxieties making the whole thing seem more like a vanity project or worse a limp remake of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½.
Some great moments particularly the opening scenes showing the audition phase get lost amidst a rapid fire of sardonic gags that go nowhere. I started to wonder if Brooks had even seen the actual series that he is supposedly trying to make fun of, or if he just considered the concept as an excuse to try and make himself the star. The intended surrealism doesn’t work and actually gets in the way with a whacked-out Gone with the Wind-like finale being the worst and only helps cement this as a misfire.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: March 2, 1979
Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes
Director: Albert Brooks
Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube