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Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn
Albert Brooks
In an afterlife way station, recently deceased Daniel literally needs to defend his life choices.
Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 111 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 4/3/2001

• Cast & Crew
• Trailer


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Defending Your Life (1991)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 11, 2021)

While never a prolific filmmaker, Albert Brooks used to write and direct a new movie every few years. However, as of January 2021, it appears that 2005’s Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World may represent his swan song behind the camera, as it seems unlikely the now 73-year-old Brooks will get back into that swing of things after 16 years.

For Brooks’ fourth of seven directorial efforts, we head to 1991’s Defending Your Life. Here Brooks plays Daniel Miller, a Los Angeles advertising executive.

When Daniel gets distracted behind the wheel of his new BMW, we winds up in a car crash. This doesn’t end well for him, as he fails to survive the accident.

Daniel heads to the afterlife, represented by Judgment City. There he needs to re-evaluate his existence and defend the choices he made.

Daniel can either plead his case successfully and move “onward”, or he can fail and get sent back to Earth to try again. Along the way, he meets free-spirited fellow recently deceased person Julia and finds himself forced to reassess a life of choices.

Though I think Brooks possesses immense comedic talent, I admit I never quite fell in love with his movies. His work ranged from pretty good to pretty awful, but I think his films don’t always quite capitalize on his skills.

Which seems a bit odd because like Woody Allen, Brooks tends to always play the “Albert Brooks Character” in his movies. Given the fact he approaches his different roles in essentially the same manner, I’d expect Brooks to become more self-realized as a filmmaker.

The problem may stem from Brooks’ need to give us something more “substantial” than just laughs. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with comedies that aspire to greater meaning, but there’s also nothing wrong with movies that just go for the guffaws.

When Life opts for basic comedy, it delights. The flick enjoys a terrific concept, and Brooks explores various aspects of his particular sense of the afterlife in a bunch of clever, creative ways.

As such, Life remains pretty entertaining from start to finish. The film examines many interesting concepts and Brooks takes fine advantage of these.

However, Brooks’ stabs at emotion and meaning tend to fall flat, partly because these seem tacked on and gratuitous. We simply don’t need anything deep from this flick, as a comedic tale of a bureaucratic/legalistic afterlife seems like enough.

It doesn’t help that Brooks absolutely squanders Streep. Julia exists as little more than a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and even Streep’s immense talents can’t develop the role into anything more substantial than a basic plot device.

Because that really becomes Julia’s only purpose. Beyond “chipper and happy”, she comes with no real personality, and poor Streep finds herself with little to other than laugh at Brooks’ every utterance.

Why bother to hire someone of Streep’s skills to play such an insubstantial role? Any actor who looks pretty and giggles on cue could play this part, so it feels frustrating to see Streep wasted.

Despite that major misfire, I still like Life, as it comes with more than enough wit and cleverness to sustain us. Though it sags at times, the movie becomes a fairly winning affair overall.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus D-

Defending Your Life appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. By the standards of a standard-def DVD circa 2001, this didn’t seem like a bad presentation, but it also failed to turn into a good one.

Sharpness was erratic. Close-ups demonstrated reasonable clarity, but wider shots tended to seem soft and lackluster. I saw minor issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and light edge haloes cropped up at times.

Colors looked passable and not much better. Mainly made up of blues and ambers, the palette leaned a little cold, but even so, the tones seemed somewhat flat. Blacks were similarly average, and shadows seemed a bit dense.

Print flaws popped up occasionally, so throughout the movie, I noticed sporadic specks and blemishes. All of this added up to a transfer that appeared blah, even for SD-DVD.

As for the film’s Dolby 2.0 soundtrack, it worked fine for its vintage. Given the movie’s ambitions, the mix didn’t shoot for much, but it added a little zest to the proceedings.

Music showed good stereo presence, and the various channels contributed passable engagement to the sides. Much of the flick felt essentially monaural, though, so don’t expect much involvement from the mix.

Audio quality also seemed fine. Speech was reasonably natural and concise, while music showed acceptable pep and clarity.

Effects brought us accurate enough material. This became a wholly mediocre track for a movie from 1991.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get short Cast & Crew biographies. We get brief, perfunctory listings for writer/director/actor Albert Brooks and actors Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, and Lee Grant. These seem forgettable.

When it attempts to bring a morality fable, Defending Your Life drags. However, more than enough of the movie boasts fine comedy to make it a mostly entertaining affair. The DVD comes with mediocre picture and audio as well as negligible bonus materials. I like the movie but the DVD seems blah.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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