Albert Brooks is a soulless director
Comedies tend not to be hailed for their cultural prescience, but writer-director Albert Brooks' very funny 1979 feature debut, Real Life , is perhaps most celebrated because of its eerie ability to foresee the self-obsessed reality-show world we now inhabit. But the film's uncanny skill with prophecy doesn't end there. Itself a parody of the 1973 PBS documentary series An American Family , which chronicled the daily life of a Santa Barbara clan, Real Life stars Albert Brooks as a soulless Hollywood director named Albert Brooks who has the grandiose notion of spending a year filming the Yeagers, an ordinary Phoenix family headed by Charles Grodin's veterinarian father. Brooks insists that he wants to capture the authenticity of regular American life, but the presence of his cameras quickly starts to warp the Yeagers' psychological health — and, even worse for Brooks, makes them boring. The superficial parallels to contemporary society's fascination with reality programming are obvious, but Real Life 's echoes also reverberate elsewhere in popular culture. The film's evisceration of suburban mediocrity has become the thematic bread and butter of many an American indie. Its skewering of Hollywood studio buzzwords predates The Player , its commentary on the fallacy of “reality” filmmaking helped birth The Office , and Brooks' slimy fictional self predicts the lovably egomaniacal doppelgänger hosts of The Larry Sanders Show and The Colbert Report . Brooks is perfection as the shallow, self-centered ringmaster who gleefully oversees the destruction of the Yeagers, but not before he learns a valuable life lesson that's powered a new generation of reality-show barons: “There's no law that says, ‘Start real, can't end fake.'”

Fri., June 12, 8 p.m., 2009

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