Just as The Twelve Chairs
is one of Mel Brooks's least-known movies and most deserving of rediscovery, so is Real Life
, the first feature film by Albert Brooks (no relation), a buried treasure.
An expansion of one of the short films Brooks created for the inaugural season of Saturday Night Live (and when will someone release those on video?), Real Life takes its cue from An American Family, the landmark 1973 PBS documentary that unflinchingly captured on film the life and gradual dissolution of the wildly dysfunctional Loud family. As a satire of the media's intrusion into our lives, it would make an ideal double-feature with The Truman Show.
Brooks stars as himself, a comedian who, he states, would have been a scientist had he "studied harder or been graded more fairly." Though obliviously unqualified, he is spearheading a project that endeavors to capture a year in the life of a typical American family.
Charles Grodin stars as put-upon Warren Yeager, the Phoenix, Arizona, veterinarian who watches helplessly as the callous Brooks overwhelms his life. (At one point, Brooks makes an entrance in a clown suit to cheer up the depressed brood.) Frances Lee McCain costars as Grodin's wife, who develops a crush on Brooks. "I'm a shallow fellow," he insincerely dissuades her.
This docu-comedy is vintage Brooks, but so dryly deadpan that the uninitiated might not be in on the joke. Among the scenes that are classics in the Brooks canon are his hilariously inappropriate production number that launches the film (he belts out "Something's Gotta Give" to the locals), his cheery dismissal of the unnecessary but union-imposed film crew ("See you at the premiere!"), the revelation that Mrs. Yeager's gynecologist is a notorious "baby broker" previously exposed on 60 Minutes, and the increasingly fractious production meetings in which an old-Hollywood producer (listening in on speaker phone) insists that Brooks cast James Caan as a neighbor.
Real Life was cowritten by Monica Johnson, who later collaborated with Brooks on Modern Romance, Lost in America, The Scout, Mother, and Harry Shearer (from another classic mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap), who also appears as Pete the cameraman. --Donald Liebenson