By Donald Liebenson
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
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