3 Best Movies to Watch by Albert Brooks

Staff & contributors

, 1996

Only a writer of Albert Brooks’ comedic and perceptive talents could turn the premise of an insecure middle-aged man having romantic trouble into something genuinely funny and poignant. Brooks appears as his signature brand of self-loathing boomer here: he plays John Henderson, a middling novelist who's recently gone through a second divorce. When he finds himself in the unenviable position of having to start afresh in his forties, John first decides he needs to get to the bottom of his recurring failures with women. In keeping with the neurotic preoccupations of his characters, Brooks has John take the psychoanalytic approach by going back to the source: his mother. 

To better get to the root of his hang-ups, John temporarily moves back in with Mrs Henderson, whom Debbie Reynolds plays as a hilariously blithe foil to her manic, insecure son. Brooks and Reynolds’ fractious rapport is tortuously true to life: John finds her petty habits maddening, while she doesn’t seem to understand his life or his work — an obliviousness that, it turns out, might run the other way, too. Cleverly turning the self-obsessions of its lead character on its head, Mother is a wry comedy full of insight and unexpected sweetness.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Albert Brooks, Anne Haney, Debbie Reynolds, Greg Bronson, Harry Hutchinson, Isabel Glasser, James Gleason, Joey Naber, John C. McGinley, Kimiko Gelman, Lisa Kudrow, Matt Nolan, Paul Collins, Peter White, Richard Assad, Rob Morrow, Rosalind Allen, Spencer Klein, Vanessa Williams

Director: Albert Brooks

Rating: PG-13

Written and directed by the film’s star, Albert Brooks, Defending Your Life imagines an afterlife in which purgatory is a courtroom, and whether you’ll be saved or damned is judged based on the life you led on Earth.

Did you live courageously, or did you live fearfully? Were you ashamed, meek, afraid of being vulnerable? Or did you risk some tender part of yourself in order to connect with others, to meaningfully impact another life?

Daniel Miller (Brooks) discovers he may not have lived as boldly as he assumed. In the afterlife and awaiting his day in afterlife court, he meets Julia (Meryl Streep, in what is possibly one of her most captivating roles), who is kind and thoughtful and a capital-G Good person. Of course, it’s only after dying that Daniel tunes in to the great possibility of a life not lived on autopilot. But is he too late to atone for his unexamined life—or is there time yet for a second chance?

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Albert Brooks, Alex Sheafe, Arell Blanton, Art Frankel, Bob Braun, Buck Henry, Cathleen Chin, Clarke Coleman, Clayton Norcross, Clifford Einstein, David Purdham, Ernie Brown, Ethan Embry, Gary Ballard, Gary Beach, George D. Wallace, George Wallace, Glen Chin, Greg Finley, Hal Landon Jr., Ida Lee, James Eckhouse, James Paradise, Jennifer Barlow, Jennifer Barlow Grodsky, Jerry Prell, Jim McKrell, Joey Miyashima, Julie Cobb, Ken Thorley, Kristopher Kent Hill, Lee Grant, Leonard O. Turner, Lillian Lehman, Marilyn Rockafellow, Mary Pat Gleason, Maxine Elliott Hicks, Meryl Streep, Michael Durrell, Newell Alexander, Noley Thornton, Nurit Koppel, Peter Schuck, Rachel Bard, Raffi Di Blasio, Rip Torn, Roger Behr, Ronald L. Colby, S. Scott Bullock, Sage Allen, Shirley MacLaine, Sidney Chankin, Susan Walters, Time Winters, Wil Albert

Director: Albert Brooks

While painfully accurate, Lost in America is a cutting satire of the white-collar mid-life crisis that’s so hilarious, but in a depressing sort of way. When denied his expected promotion and then fired, David Howard (director Albert Brooks) convinces his wife Linda (Julie Haggerty) that they should “drop out of society”, pursuing a freewheeling lifestyle to travel across the country. Brooks and Haggerty lead the film – their back-and-forth dynamic feels compelling, whether they’re arguing, pouting, or tenderly reconciling. And while the couple stays compatible with each other, the film reveals them (and us) at our most shallow.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Albert Brooks, Art Frankel, Candy Ann Brown, Charles Boswell, Donald Gibb, Garry Marshall, Herb Nanas, James L. Brooks, Julie Hagerty, Larry King, Maggie Roswell, Michael Cornelison, Michael Greene, Raynold Gideon, Rex Reed

Director: Albert Brooks

Rating: R