Saturday, July 9, 2011

Preview: The Subversive Comedy of Albert Brooks

"I've always felt like I work in a small little area that doesn't represent anything like the rest of society."
-Albert Brooks

Despite my long-standing love of cinema, it boggles my mind why some people get swallowed up by Hollywood. Has no one seen Sunset Boulevard!? But seriously, it is so easy to get assimilated by the machine and turned into another cog in the meat grinder out there. Therefore, it's even more amazing when someone inside the system can consistently operate outside the box and never compromise who they are.

This seems to be particularly rare for comedians and comedic actors. I can think of countless formerly edgy performers who settled into "safer territory" as their career went on. Robin Williams, anyone? I mean, Flubber, really? And has Eddie Murphy been funny the past fifteen years or so that doesn't require him to be a talking donkey? The prosecution rests, your honor.

So take someone like Albert Brooks. Ok, let me rephrase that, since there is no one quite like Albert Brooks. He's been excelling as the over-thinking, neurotic yet empathetic guy all his life. I think my first encounter with Brooks' work was when he played the only "normal" character in Taxi Driver. I later recall catching him & Meryl Streep in Defending Your Life, and became a fan of his self-effacing brand of humor. It's safe to say the only step into the mainstream he's taken was in Finding Nemo, where he played a version of the same phobic character he defines so well. Working for Pixar didn't damage his cred at all and, as a result, kids everywhere now know his voice (if not necessarily his name). And let's be honest, you loved Finding Nemo, too. You're smiling right now while thinking about it, aren't you? "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

Born Albert Einstein, he changed his professional name to Albert Brooks because, well, you just HAVE TO when your given name is Albert Einstein. People would be more apt to think you're a physicist than a humorist, right?

Well... Still, changing the name was a smart move.

At a young age, he quit college to focus on comedy and developed a reputation for being a "comedian's comedian," deconstructing the art of humor while still cracking people up. It's this very art of deconstruction that continues into his body of work. Brooks breaks down his character into a shallow and vapid individual to send up that image of the self-absorbed and petty persona that too often defines a true American in our modern world.

Modern Romance is one of the early quintessential Albert Brooks performances, where he lampoons the ideals that supposedly accompany one's love life. You know that saying that you don't know what you've got until it's gone? That's just the beginning in this case. The film is a funny look at a man too consumed with pettiness and jealousy to realize how dependent he is on someone else to make him happy. Sounds familiar? Surely we've all known or experienced such a relationship.

Alas, it was mostly ignored by the public at the box office when it was released in 1981. Perhaps it was just ahead of its time, because the main character clearly has issues not unlike those of our "friends" we commonly read on our Facebook wall or Twitter posts.

Aside from Nemo, Brooks is probably best known from his role in Broadcast News, the 1987 comedy directed by James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets). A sharp and funny film about television journalism and the difference between style and substance, it features three incredible performances by Holly Hunter, William Hurt and Brooks.

For his performance as an insecure reporter, Brooks received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Sean Connery in The Untouchables). The film also got nominations in the categories of: Best Actor, Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing and Picture.

Even though Hollywood reflects no part of any real society, that hasn't stopped generations from feeling entitled to a life of privilege, dreaming of being rich and famous for its own sake. After all, we're special enough to get whatever we want, right? What nonsense. Luckily, Albert Brooks understands the absurdity of our self-obsessed culture and keeps holding mirrors to our faces before drawing silly faces on them.

He's not exactly a troublemaker, and he's a far cry from being a revolutionary, but Albert Brooks still cranks out his own brand of subversive humor. Always keen at pointing out the flaws of our system, I think of him as a speed bump on the long and possibly mundane highway of American experience. To use the parlance of our time, Albert keeps it real when so many sell out, and his consistent voice does more than tread water in Hollywood. He just keeps swimming, just keeps swimming... against the current.

Showtimes for the films:

Modern Romance
Tuesday, Jul 12th
Wednesday, Jul 13th

Broadcast News
Tuesday, Jul 12th
Wednesday, Jul 13th

Final Notes about the screening

Double Features:
"When two movies are grouped together under the same thematic heading, one ticket is good for both features when viewed back-to-back on the same day." (cha-ching!)

"Hassle-free downtown parking available for $6 at the One American Center for all summer films! Since you’re also supporting the theatre when you buy parking, they're giving you a free small soda each time you park there for a film. Buy online with your film tix and print out your confirmation e-mail or buy directly from the garage attendant (cash only). Attendant will have your soda ticket as well."

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