Nearly as much as Jerry Lewis, Albert Brooks’s comic persona is defined by its unlikability. Instead of the little-guy identification of Chaplin or Keaton, he opts for inquiries of aggrieved male neediness, rigorously free of soothing cuteness. The grim self-absorption that abducted the camera’s mock-documentary focus in his earlier Real Life takes center stage in Modern Romance, a romantic comedy where the romance is perpetually on the verge of destruction. Brooks reveals what he’s learned from working with Martin Scorsese with the opening camera movement, and the diner breakup that follows reveals what he’s taught Larry David, Neil LaBute, et al. “I do love you, love’s got nothing to do with it,” neurotic film editor Robert (Brooks) says to girlfriend Mary (Kathryn Harrold) before the food arrives, and when she angrily walks out he’s left wondering why she couldn’t wait until after the meal. “You Are So Beautiful” is used as a jazz riff for the opening credits, although Brooks’s compulsively selfish character only allows for the beauty of his own misery as the post-rupture blues settle in and he pads his apartment in purposefully agonizing real-time, Quaaluded and paranoid, dissing his answering machine, praising his record collection, and promising himself a new life. The new life lasts about two hours, until his shell cracks and, desperate to win her back, he hits the supermarket for make-up gifts (“Do any apologize?”). The filmmaker’s ruthless scrutiny of his character’s irrational jealously unexpectedly marks the movie as a distant relative of Él, just as Brooks’s style can be as deceptively simple as Buñuel’s. Harrold wonders if Brooks can tell “real love” from “movie love,” he says he can and woos her with a line from Easy Rider; to further the self-reflexivity, Brooks shows us the nuts and bolts of the medium itself, adding sounds to images in the editing room with fellow film-cutter Bruno Kirby, as if educating the critics who cannot gauge how cinematic his work can be. The mountain cabin finale, with the pair’s romantic getaway crumbling under the heft of Brooks’s obsession, provides both punchline and culmination to the hilarious-cum-harrowing investigation. It is telling that Stanley Kubrick was a fan of the movie, for the shot of Brooks watching from the cabin window as Harrold makes a phone call could have could right out of The Shining.
Sony's packaging is a throwaway one, and the transfer follows suit. The anamorphic widescreen is welcome, though images are often washed-out, and the sound can only offer various levels of flatness.
Not even a trailer.
A piercing ego-autopsy disguised as vanilla '80s comedy.