Defending Your Life (1991) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for language
Running Time: 112 min.
Cast: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Lee Grant, Buck Henry, Ethan Embry
Director: Albert Brooks
Screenplay: Albert Brooks
Review published October 22, 2002
Defending Your Life is a wryly witty and very amusing comedy from the mind of writer-director Albert Brooks (Broadcast News, The In-Laws), who gives a hilarious take on the process of what happens after we die. Apparently, we all go to a place called Judgment City, where recently deceased people await trials to determine whether or not they can move on to the next stage, or whether they are sent back to start a new life and try all over again.
Brooks plays Daniel, an underachieving yuppie businessman who carelessly takes his new Mercedes for a spin, only to run head-on into a city bus. Off he goes into the afterlife, where he must prove himself in front of the judges watching scenes of his life flash by in order to see if he lived a good life, or an unsuccessful one marred by fear and avoidance. Meryl Streep (The Manchurian Candidate, The Hours) plays Julia, a happy woman who seems to have fate lined up properly for her, and with whom Daniel forms an immediate bond. However, they have only a few days to be together before heading off to their respective destinations.
Defending Your Life is a fun flick to watch, not only for the main story, but just to see all of the hilarious little bits that make up Brooks’ idea of the post-death experience. His world is full of interesting bureaucracies, where people are judged mostly by the amount of their brains they have used, and where one can eat as much food as they want without ever gaining a pound.
Brooks is his usual self, offering quips that are at the same time hilarious yet often profound. Streep is more effervescent than ever, clearly looking like she is having a good time playing a rare light, comedic role. The supporting cast is excellent, with a very funny and goofy character played with perfection by Rip Torn, who steals most of the scenes he’s in.
Defending Your Life is generally regarded as Brooks’ best film, so anyone who considers himself or herself a fan of his work or comedic style should definitely check this out. Good satire, with a light, affectionate touch.
©2004 Vince Leo