Defending Your Life

Albert Brooks’s 1991 feature is something of a departure from its predecessors (Real Life, Modern Romance, and Lost in America) because of its fantasy premisea recently deceased adman (Brooks) has to defend his life (screened in the form of movie rushes) before a small tribunal in a sort of theme-park resort called Judgment Citybut it’s every bit as funny and serious. Meryl Streep plays the saintlike woman Brooks meets and falls in love with in this plastic purgatory while they pursue their separate trials, and the depth of feeling uncovered by their relationship works hand in glove with the daily examination sessions: the twin evils in this metaphysical netherworld, which has more than a passing resemblance to contemporary American society, are fear and stupidity, and over the course of the movie we and Brooks learn a great deal about both. Rip Torn (at his juiciest) plays Brooks’s defender, Lee Grant plays his prosecutor, and Buck Henry has a nice comic turn as another defender. A wonderful movie not only for its satirical richnessJudgment City is imagined in copious detailbut for the seriousness of its comedy. 111 min. (JR)

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