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  September 16th, 2012       Posted by Frederik       Display Comments

This Sunday’s spotlight is “Defending Your Life”, Albert Brook’s 1991 afterlife comedy. New DVD screencaptures have been added to the gallery. Three new clips can be found in the video archive. Production notes and review after the cut. As always, please share your thoughts on “Defending Your Life” in the comments. My most sincere thanks to the wonderful Katrin for sharing the film with me so it can be reviewed as Movie of the Week. Thanks!

Production Notes

Multi-talent Albert Brooks wrote and directed “Defending Your Life” and teams up with a distinguished ensemble cast. Included are Meryl Streep, as the woman of his dreams – or anybody’s dreams – Rip Torn, Academy Award-winning actress Lee Grant and Buck Henry. The cast takes us through an entirely new look at the afterlife. No angels, no harps, no wings. Rather, judges, defenders and prosecutors, all there to get you through the process of Defending Your Life. While critics responded to the offbeat premise and the surprising chemistry between Brooks and Meryl Streep as his post-death love interest, the film was not a hit financially, grossing about $16 million in the United States. The Hall of Past Lives is actually the old Fluor Daniel building in Irvine, California. And look out for a cameo of Shirley MacLaine as herself – acting as the holographic host of the “Past Lives Pavilion” (a reference to her publicly known belief in reincarnation).

Frederik’s Review

“Defending Your Life” has been a triple task for Albert Brooks, who wrote, directed and starred in this comedy. The premise sounds fun – the afterlife is a place called “Judgement City” where lawyers review your life – your goals and mistakes – to see if you’re candidate for heaven or hell. For Brooks, as a famed stand-up comedian, the courtroom scenes offer enough room for funny dialogue. And here where’s my trouble with the film begins. Instead of good dialogue, most of the film consists of a variety of punch lines, wise cracks and jokes that sometimes go nowhere. The idea of having your life in court fades as well since most of it repeats and you wonder how many discouraging scenes of his life Daniel has to see as well. The bright light of the film, literally, is Meryl’s Julia. She’s seen as the perfect woman, who has had the perfect life, and won’t be having any trouble getting to heaven. Daniel falls in love with her, probably because she laughs hysterically at all of his jokes (in contrast to the watching audience), for him even hell would be heaven if he could spend this time with Julia. While their scenes are funny, there isn’t anything to do for Meryl. She simply plays “the girl”. The last time she did this, in “The Deer Hunter”, she was given free hand to create a fully fleshed character out of an underwritten role. Here, it doesn’t happen and at times you wonder why Meryl has taken this role. Maybe out of admiration for Brooks. Maybe she was bored. Maybe both. At least, the film works as a romantic comedy, so if you enjoy this type of film, you’ll like “Defending Your Life”.




  • Tena

    Of course I saw this film first run in a theater, just like almost everything else, and it quickly became one of my favorite Romantic Comedies!
    Meryl may be playing just “The Girl” because it is in fact His Story, but she does it with such heart and conviction that you see what he sees in her and that’s actually what makes the whole movie work!
    And she’s so Beautiful in the film….just Luminous!
    Albert Brooks is brilliant, as usual, and what a pleasure to see a man, even a dead man, fall in love with a smart, funny, beautiful woman that isn’t even trying to win him over or even seduce him in any way!
    The supporting cast is superb as well, from Rip Torn to Lee Grant, all complete pros!!
    I Love this Movie!!
    Every Meryl fan should see this one!

  • Sonja

    I thought Meryl was so cute in that movie. She said she can’t be cute, but in there she just was.
    It’s true her Julia was just “the girl” in this life-judgement city, but we learned she was a heroic character in her life before.
    And when she talked a little embarresed how she died…. She’s really modest, joyful and like said before, just cute.
    Would you imagine that this is Meryl’s second highest rated film on RT with 96%? It really is, check it up.
    The reviews at the release date would tell otherwise, but… well, whatever.
    I’m not a fan of Albert Brooks, but I like the idea of getting back aka be reborn to learn or getting a step forward if your life was good. Sounds more fair than heaven or hell…
    So yeah, I was relly positivly surprised watching the movie the first time and just fell in love with Julia.
    I’d love to repeat myself: so cute!

  • Sophie

    I like this movie. It makes you think-more or less-and it’s just plain cute

  • Marc

    A nice light snack.

  • Isabel

    You could really see that Meryl was given the chance to freely create her character and point Julia in a certain direction, that may be the one that does it became it convincing, funny and tangible to the audience. I think it must have been a true challenge

  • Jane

    I agree completely – interesting idea but not as good as it could have been and certainly not suited for Meryl’s talent. It’s still a nice film though.

  • Isabel

    This comedy is funny, it works, definitely first of all both characters couldn´t be most different one from the other, Julia is beautiful, funny, spontaneous, bold, she was Prince Valiant in her life, now she is princess charming, in the present moment when she is defending her life she is the most corageous person Daniel has ever met, the most desirable woman he has ever dream off for him or any other man, The only chance he got to really proube he deserve to goto heaven is to be worth of this angel disguised as a woman, who makes him a better man. She makes him bold enough to leave a message saying I love you to two women just risking Julia didn´t get his message.

    And at the end of the movie he risks life itself to spend the rest of his with her, Defending his Life