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July 8, 2017

Lost in America

by Franz Patrick


Lost in America (1985)
★★★ / ★★★★

Entering his boss’ office, David (Albert Brooks), having been with the advertisement agency for eight years, is expecting to receive a much-deserved promotion to senior vice president. Instead, he is informed that not only had the position been already filled, he had been transferred to New York City to lead a new venture. This is terrible news because David and Linda (Julie Hagerty) have just bought a new house. Venting his unfiltered rage and frustration, David is eventually fired. On a high from the recent turn of events, David runs down to his wife’s place of employment and convinces her to quit. Both feel they need to start their lives over anyway so they liquidate all their assets, buy a Winnebago, and set their sights on Las Vegas.

Written by Albert Brooks and Monica Mcgowan Johnson, “Lost in America” is a dialogue-driven comedy, consistently having only two people in a frame, but it is immensely watchable because the jokes have satirical punchlines that still sting minutes after they are delivered. The first thirty minutes is spot-on in its critique of the American middle-class lifestyle—of not knowing exactly when sufficiency equates to (or should equate to) happiness. From the very first scene, the conversation revolves around having more “stuff,” like a tennis court in David and Linda’s new home when neither of them even plays tennis, and being worried that maybe they will regret not having “more” later.

At least from my perspective, the David and Linda’s so-called woes are funny because a lot of people would be so thankful if they were in the couple’s position. They have their own home, have great-paying jobs, and they have each other. The significance of these three factors are shown to us with efficiency and wit so when the couple begins to lose the things they ought to have valued and appreciated, we are able to laugh at and with them at times for not having realized it sooner.

The trip to Vegas pained my stomach from all the laughter, specifically when Linda turns out to have a gambling problem. Linda screaming, “Twenty-two! Twenty-two!” like some drunk wacko while playing roulette despite judging glances all around her is hilarious because eyes bulging out of their sockets, looking very pale, and stinking of desperation is not something we expect from that character. Hagerty has a knack for playing extremes with enough calculation for us to still believe that her character has her own identity and yet still represent anyone who has tasted freedom after leading a life that was too safe for so long.

Compound that with David’s attempt of convincing the casino manager to return their money because it will be “good for the casino’s reputation in the long run,” the film pulsates with situational creativity. Brooks injects his character with such an air of confidence, so close to yet not quite hubris, that the screenplay dares us to wish he would fail. I watched in complete fascination as to whether the manager will be kind or gullible enough to issue a refund. Linda and David encounter one problem after another that it comes to a point where we are forced to wonder when or if they are finally going to get a break. I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to see them return to their former lives.

Directed by Albert Brooks, while “Lost in America” is very funny, it deserves an ending that matches its tone and mood, something a bit more snarky or self-deprecating instead of farcical. With such a limp way of crossing to the finish line, it left me only feeling satisfied instead of ecstatic for having seen something unexpected.

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