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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents
Modern Romance (1981)

Robert: You said you were gonna call me.
Mary: I tried to call you. The line was busy.
Robert: The line was busy? The line was busy. Even the phone company advises, try again.

- Albert Brooks, Kathryn Harrold

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: May 01, 2006

Stars: Albert Brooks, Kathryn Harrold
Other Stars: Bruno Kirby, James L. Brooks, Meadowlark Lemon, George Kennedy, Bob Einstein
Director: Albert Brooks

MPAA Rating: R for (language, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:33m:36s
Release Date: May 02, 2006
UPC: 043396132764
Genre: romantic comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Albert Brooks is one of those actors who always seems to play himself in movies, but you can't fault him for it—he's sure good at it. I'll even commit sacrilege against the Church of Woody to name him the funniest neurotic on the silver screen. He's usually the highlight of the film when working for hire—as a TV news anchor drenched in more flop sweat than Nixon in Broadcast News and a agoraphobic clown fish searching for his son in Finding Nemo—but he's at his best on those rare occasions when he's directing himself in a script he's written; for my money, one-two-three punch of Lost in America, Defending Your Life, and Mother cements his reputation as one of the most accomplished comedic directors of the last two decades (never mind that Mother came out in 1996, and his only effort between it and current theatrical release Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World was the underrated, but by no means fabulous, Hollywood insider satire The Muse).

Before he got really good, though, Brooks made the startlingly prescient Real Life, a precursor to the era of reality TV and the end of privacy as we once knew it, and Modern Romance, a 1981 comedy about two people who refuse to let the fact that they make a horrible couple get in the way of what must be true love. Brooks plays Robert, a film editor who's constantly either ending or reconciling his relationship with Mary (Kathryn Harrold). As the film opens, Robert no sooner dumps her than he begins obsessing about getting her back, popping two Quaaludes to ease the pain, circling her house half the night and calling her at work. But when she takes him back, he instantly switches gears, and before their first night back together is through, he's back at it, stealing a suspicious phone bill and tracking her down when she tells him she's working late.

Written by Brooks and his frequent co-writer Monica Johnson, Modern Romance isn't really a love story—it's about two people so desperately afraid of being alone, they are more than willing to put up with a relationship that's obviously massively dysfunctional. Robert argues that he must be in love, because every time he leaves Mary he can't stop thinking about her (this despite the fact that, when together, they can barely talk without fighting). She points out that he might just be experiencing "movie love," a result of too much time spent in the editing booth. She's got a point, but I think their real problem is the idea that love is something grand and dramatic. Lust, they've got down, and the emotional highs of fighting and making up provide the rush. Once they are actually interacting, they remember that a real relationship takes actual work.

The central idea rings painfully true, but the film never really takes off. The dialogue never really hits home like it should, and Mary's character comes across as something of a pushover, considering the way she keeps letting Robert back into her life. The pacing seems off—there aren't a lot of laughs, and some scenes drag on way too long (including a rough stretch in which Robert staggers around his apartment, under the influence, playing with his stereo and "drunk dialing" old acquaintances.

The funniest scenes happen on the periphery. At work, Robert and his assistant (Bruno Kirby) are editing a bad sci-fi film for a deluded director (played by James L. Brooks) who thinks adding dramatic footsteps in a climactic scene will save the picture (a sound effects man's notion to substitute an audio clip from The Incredible Hulk produces the movie's biggest laugh). In another scene, Robert commits himself to starting a new life without Mary and visits a sporting goods store, only to be talked into purchasing hundreds of dollars of useless jogging equipment by a pushy salesman (Bob Einstein, aka "Super Dave" Osborne and Brooks' real-life brother).

If nothing else, there's certainly more than a hint of future greatness in Modern Romance, and even 25 years after it was made, its title still applies.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Modern Romance looks a little aged, but still quite nice, in this new anamorphic transfer. Colors look solid, with natural skin tones. Blacks appear deep, though shadow detail is a bit lacking. I didn't notice artifacting or edge enhancement, but there is some visible grain throughout (it's quite pronounced in a few scenes, including a shot that's nearly all white that is positively swimming). The source print shows flecks of dirt and nicks, but nothing glaring.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereono

Audio Transfer Review: This no-nonsense mix is solely confined to the front channels (and might as well be mono), but it gets the job done, presenting dialogue clearly and naturally, minus distraction like distortion and background hiss.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Only the most basic features—let's not oversell it by calling them "special"—are included on this budget catalogue release: English subtitles and 12 chapter stops.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

An amusing debut feature from neurotic writer/director Albert Brooks, Modern Romance is by no means one of his best, but it still holds up 25 years later, proving that crippling jealousy and insecurity never really go out of style. Sony's DVD is pretty plain, but offers the film in fine form.


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