An Amusing Journey to a Unique Era
The Criterion Collection 887
Lost in America (1985) is a social satire from a period in American history in which many sought to find themselves, usually by letting go of possessions and exploring their spiritual side. David and Linda Howard (Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty) are about to celebrate David’s pending promotion by buying a bigger house and a Mercedes. Instead, David is fired, and decides that he’s now free and that they should sell the house, Linda should quit her job, and they should go on a quest for truth and fulfillment.
They buy a Winnebago RV, complete with a microwave oven that browns, and set out for Las Vegas, where Linda promptly gambles away almost all of their money. Reduced to $800, they find a small town and seek out mundane jobs. Linda becomes an assistant manager at a hot-dog joint, and David finds employment as a school crossing guard. This quickly pales, and they drive back to New York, eager to beg for their old careers.
Brooks’s original idea was to direct Bill Murray as David, but he ended up doing both jobs himself. His type of humor is low-key but continuous -- there aren’t the usual pauses for laughter, so viewers find themselves in a state of perpetual amusement while listening sharply so as not to miss the next joke. Hagerty matches Brooks perfectly. Watching Lost in America again, I wondered why she never hit the big time as a comedienne. Her gambling scene is a jewel -- she makes us believe that she’s really addicted to what she’s convinced is her winning number, 22. It’s one of the film’s best scenes.
The Criterion Collection’s new edition of this cult favorite boasts very good color and a robust monaural soundtrack -- music and dialog are reproduced with accuracy and clarity. Eric Saarinen’s cinematography doesn’t call attention to itself, for the most part; it serves the action and frames the story, with nothing flashy. It’s solid, and excellent in its understatement.
There are few extras -- short interviews with Brooks, Hagerty, executive producer Herb Nanas, and filmmaker James L. Brooks; a trailer; and a booklet essay by film critic Scott Tobias.
Lost in America is a good representation of the era in which it was made, and an amusing journey into Middle America. But Brooks’s low-key humor isn’t for everyone -- I advise renting before buying.
Be sure to watch for: After Linda loses all their money, David, still in a bathrobe, sits down for a one-on-one with the casino manager, played by Garry Marshall. David’s efforts to get his money back are classic, and Marshall is a perfect foil. This is the best scene in a film that has many good ones.
. . . Rad Bennett