In the mid 1970's when Albert Brooks' short films would appear during the first years of SNL, they went way over my head.
As a teen, his clever satire fell flat, so it's great to revisit his body of work and career with new perspective in ALBERT BROOKS: DEFENDING MY LIFE.
The new documentary is a loving tribute from his lifelong best friend Rob Reiner. The two sit down across from each other and share stories, laughing and revealing a lot of insight behind the bits. It's a conversational base that serves the film well.
Ahead of his time and always the most clever kid in the room, we see many of the routines that brought Brooks fame as a young, cutting edge comedian. The memories he shares around each one are often as funny as the routines themselves.
The doc is loaded with clips, including some classic bits with Johnny Carson that really took me back. I'll never forget watching Johnny absolutely lose it over Brooks' bit about using different spices to do great impressions. Johnny's facial expressions during the routine are so honest you couldn't help but roar along with him.
David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Steven Spielberg, James L. Brooks, Chris Rock and many others share their memories of Brooks as well.
It's interesting watching how much he struggled to get his first film made and hilarious to hear how the studio nearly ruined it's release, thinking Brooks' humor would play better in the sticks than Manhattan.
That movie, 1979's "Real Life" foretold reality TV decades before it ruled our television screens.
My appreciation for Brooks exploded with his films of the 80's and 90's. "Lost in America" and "Defending Your Life" are both smart and laugh out loud hilarious.
I was also blown away when I saw his dramatic portrayal of the brutal Bernie Rose in "Drive". Almost unrecognizable, he's terrifying as a man that getaway driver Ryan Gosling crosses. If you haven't seen "Drive" put it on your must see list.
Brooks followed that up with another fantastic dramatic performance in one of my favorite films of all time, 2014's " A Most Violent Year".
I loved that both of these roles are featured in the doc, along with his hilarious role as himself in "Curb Your Enthusiasm" in which he stages his own funeral to see what all his friends would say about him.
Reiner directs the documentary with an easy hand, breezing through 90 minutes that feel as enjoyable as sitting down with old friends.
Whether you're a casual fan of Brooks work or a devotee of his films, this new HBO doc should hit the spot and provide plenty of laughs. It made me want to watch "Broadcast News" again and see two of Brooks' works that I haven't seen yet, including "Mother". For that alone, it earns a solid B.