Friday, August 10, 2018

REAL LIFE (1979)

Albert Brooks and friend in Real Life

I first encountered Albert Brooks from his short films during the first season of Saturday Night Live. I also thought his second film Modern Romance was fun and perceptive and his later Lost in America is one of my favorite comedies from the 80's. Somehow I missed seeing his first film Real Life, but in some ways it is actually better to see it now in that it was so far ahead of its time in what it depicts on the screen.

At the time, it was a sort of satire of An American Family, which was a PBS show of the 70's which featured a camera crew following around an actual family and recording the goings on of their everyday life.
An American Family was something unique at the time and it was certainly unique to make a satirical movie about it. Of course, in the past twenty years, reality TV is ubiquitous for better of for worse.

What we see in Real Life is Albert Brooks (playing himself) as a filmmaker attempting to film the daily activities of an normal American family. What we the audience actually see is the nuts and bolts of what goes into choosing what and how everything is portrayed. The family (father played by Charles Grodin, mother by Frances Lee McCain) chosen is willing and excited about it at first, but problems begin to ensue. We (the audience of the film Real Life) get to see all these issues, which have to be resolved before the show can be aired (to the TV audience). 

Men follow the family around wearing the camera apparatus pictured above as the family is instructed to go about their normal day to day existence. But so many problems ensue, many involving Brooks himself. Brooks is supposed to be an impartial observer, but he continually seems to be interfering in their lives. At one point the mother seems to be developing a crush on Brooks, which he has to quell without offending her. The family also has moments of not talking to each other-which makes for bad television. Print media gets wind of the family and wants to do a story on them which sets Brooks off on a tirade. And then there is the scene where veterinarian Grodin is caught on film accidentally causing his horse patient to die.

The film so accurately depicts a problem with reality TV in that unless you manufacture some conflict it can make for some pretty mundane television. The final scene (SPOILER) has Brooks making one last attempt to save his show by recreating the burning of Atlanta from Gone With the Wind by setting the house of the family on fire!

A very insightful film and Brooks (to me anyway) is always funny.

Actors playing a real life family being a real life family
on a television show in a movie about a real life family on a
television show

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