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Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks, Charles Grodin, Frances Lee McCain
Writing Credits:
Albert Brooks, Monica Johnson, Harry Shearer

A film crew sets out to record a year in the life of an average family, but things quickly start going wrong.

Rated PG.

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

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $9.98
Release Date: 2/13/2001

• “Interview with Director Albert Brooks” Featurette
• Trailer


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Real Life (1979)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 4, 2021)

Back in the 1970s, Albert Brooks attained some fame via the short films he made for Saturday Night Live. In 1979, Brooks leapt to the big screen with Real Life, his feature debut.

Filmmaker Albert Brooks (Brooks) wants to make a documentary about a “real family”. As such, he intends to shoot every aspect of their everyday lives, and the Yeager clan of Arizona becomes his target.

However, as Brooks documents the Yeagers, he encounters a slew of problems. Warren Yeager (Charles Grodin), wife Jeanette (Frances Lee McCain) and kids Lisa (Lisa Urette) and Eric (Robert Stirrat) don’t quite live up to dramatic needs, so Brooks needs to goose his subjects with artificial drama to create a more exciting product.

As Life notes at the start, a 1973 PBS series called An American Family pioneered this sort of reality TV. Life acts as a spoof of that, and it proves prescient in the way it predicted the future of the genre.

Life also acts as a precursor for the “mockumentary” style of film popularized by 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap. Indeed, Tap star Harry Shearer acted as one of the screenwriters for Life.

Possibly the biggest difference between Life and Tap stems from the nature of the projects. Whereas Tap offered a largely improvised production with only basic outlines from which to work, whereas Life uses a standard screenplay.

This makes Life feel much more like a traditional film than Tap. Whereas the latter plays like a documentary, Life nods in that direction but always comes across as the written/acted flick it is.

I like the concept of Life but the end result seems spotty, to say the least. Honestly, Brooks might’ve been better off if he’d gone with a short film version of the project, as he simply lacks the material to sustain the viewer’s interest across 99 minutes.

Indeed, Life launches well, as the opening segment finds Brooks in his element. At the movie’s start, we see Brooks’ lavish, theatrical pitch for the film, a sequence that depicts Brooks as an egotistical showbiz hack.

Brooks plays this kind of Hollywood phony well, and the beginning segment entertains. It also promises comedic delights that don’t really develop the rest of the way.

Not that Life flops after the opening segment, as it still manages some entertainment. Nonetheless, the film tends to seem stretched thin and not as funny as one might hope.

I can’t put my finger on what goes wrong, but I get the impression Brooks came up with the idea for the movie and he figured that would be good enough. The characters remain largely forgettable, and most of the “comedic scenarios” fail to become especially interesting.

Life does get credit for the way in which it foreshadowed the future of TV, but the movie itself disappoints. Maybe it played better in 1979, but in 2021, we’ve seen too many superior projects in this vein for Life to hit the mark.

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

Real 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. This was a transfer that never became poor but it also never seemed particularly noteworthy.

Sharpness usually appeared positive. At times it became a little fuzzy and ill-defined, but it generally manifested a decent level of clarity. Though this wasn’t a razor-sharp presentation, it seems acceptably concise.

I saw no signs of moiré effects or jagged edges, but light edge haloes appeared. In terms of print flaws, we saw sporadic specks and marks but nothing overwhelming.

Colors occasionally boasted fairly lively tones, but much of the film showed rather flat hues. I thought some of this resulted from the film stock, but the tones still felt somewhat dull, especially given the natural palette and the sunlit exteriors.

Black levels generally seemed solid, with dark tones that appeared acceptably deep and rich. However, shadow detail was a little lacking. Some low-light situations came across as a bit dark and dense, with images that could be somewhat hard to discern. Ultimately, the visuals were acceptable but not good enough to earn a grade above a “C+”.

Matters didn’t improve for the Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack of Real Life, as I thought the track sounded okay and not much more. Speech showed a little tinniness but remained acceptably distinctive and lacked problems with intelligibility.

Music failed to demonstrate much life. These components were concise and without flaws, but it didn’t show great range.

Effects fell into the same category. Those elements sounded fairly clean and weren’t distorted, but they never stood out as bright or rich. This was a listenable mix with no particular strengths.

An Interview with Director Albert Brooks runs 11 minutes, 21 seconds and offers Brooks’ thoughts about the film’s origins and development, cast and performances, inspirations, and some specifics of the production. We get some good notes here, even though I’d prefer a commentary.

We also get the film’s trailer, and it’s a hoot. It consists of footage shot explicitly for the promo – and comes in anaglyph 3D to boot!

I guess – I didn’t dig up those red/blue glasses to test the image. Nonetheless, this becomes one of the funniest trailers I’ve ever seen.

As a spoof of documentaries, Real Life boasts immense potential, and it occasionally proves amusing. However, it seems thin on substance and feels more like a short stretched to feature length than a fully realized project. The DVD offers mediocre picture and audio along with minor bonus materials. Real Life ends up as a spotty comedy.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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