Albert Brooks: Defending My Life (2023)

Albert Brooks: Defending My Life (2023)

PG-13

hbo max

A hilarious multi-hyphenate gets his flowers in this intimate, illuminating documentary

7.9

Movie

United States of America
English
Documentary
2023
ROB REINER
Alana Haim, Albert Brooks, Anthony Jeselnik
88 min

TLDR

In case you weren’t already aware, Albert Brooks’ real name is actually Albert Einstein — which must've been a tall order to live up to, but it's fine, because he *is* a comedic genius.

What it's about

A celebratory retrospective of Albert Brooks' contributions to the worlds of comedy and cinema — including Taxi Driver, Broadcast News, Drive, and his own movies — that features famous fans and candid conversations with the man himself.

The take

This charming documentary about one of the most brilliant, groundbreaking comedians alive strikes a delicate balance between accessible and deeply appreciative, making it both a great gateway for those yet to be uninitiated into the Albert Brooks fan club and a satisfying retrospective for us confirmed devotees. It’s directed and fronted by Rob Reiner, celebrated director himself and one of Albert Brooks’ oldest friends, and the choice is perfect: his rapport with Brooks is warm and easy, extracting real sincerity from the famously deadpan comedian-writer-actor-director.

Defending My Life features plenty of talking heads gushing about Brooks’ dazzling multi-hyphenate talents (among them Steven Spielberg and Sharon Stone), a standard convention for documentaries of this kind. But what elevates this into a portrait worthy of its subject are the scenes from a dinner shared by Brooks and Reiner, during which the former opens up about his childhood, reflects on his career, and divulges the autobiographical elements that informed his work. Their tete-a-tete flows with all the unforced rhythm of conversation between good friends; Reiner’s presence coaxes illuminating insight from Brooks, which makes watching the documentary feel as close to pulling up a seat at their table as you’d hope for. The 90 minutes just fly by.

What stands out

As one of the talking heads, Broadcast News director James L. Brooks (no relation), puts it, Albert Brooks’ work is an extension of himself. The most enlightening admissions he makes in the doc touch on just that: the ways he drew on his real life to make his neurotic, needy characters not just funny but also true. The backstories he shares here strike a similar balance between laughs and poignancy, and provide real insight into the mind of this genius. Again, a major factor in Brooks’ candor here is probably Reiner, whose closeness to Brooks turns what could’ve been a by-the-numbers documentary into a touching and revealing tribute.

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