Man, there’s nothing quite like a late night screening of Modern Romance to remind you that there are worse things in life than being single on Valentine’s Day—you could also be an insufferably neurotic asshole.
The only other Albert Brooks-directed film I’d seen before tonight was Real Life (a sharply-scripted mockumentary that set out to lampoon the Maysles Brothers, only to end up perfectly parodying the reality TV industry a few decades in advance), but this dark, depressing comedy is a different beast altogether—albeit one that also mines a lot of its humor out of secondhand embarrassment. From the painful opening breakup scene to the depression-fueled shopping sprees to the spur-of-the-moment make-up dates, the whole movie is a nonstop parade of awkward situations as our not-so-dashing hero (Brooks himself, delivering a candid portrait of bruised masculinity) drifts in and out of an irreparably toxic relationship, grappling all the while with his crippling insecurities. The resulting study of “true” love in a society obsessed with the idealized, sanitized version glimpsed in popular culture is intensely uncomfortable—and undeniably hilarious. I laughed, I cringed… and I adored every absurd minute of it.
I purchased a copy of Brooks’ Lost in America during a Criterion flash sale a few months back, and the Blu-ray is still sitting unopened on my shelf. Maybe it’s time to pop that sucker in…
[Originally written February 14, 2018.]