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Paramount Studios presents

Real Life (1979)

"Don't call me nuts! YOU'RE nuts!"- "Albert Brooks" (Albert Brooks)

Stars: Albert Brooks, Charles Grodin, Frances Lee McCain
Other Stars: J.A. Preston, Matthew Tobin
Director: Albert Brooks

Manufacturer: PDSC
MPAA Rating: PG for (some language, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:38m:52s
Release Date: 2001-02-13
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer


DVD Review

Albert Brooks' Real Life (subtitled An American Comedy) places an ordinary American family (Charles Grodin, Frances Lee McCain, Lisa Urette and Robert Stirrat) under the documentary cameras of Brooks' on-screen alter ego. The project is intended to mix sociological observation with a new frontier in entertainment potential, bringing the public "real life" in place of cinematic fakery and fantasy. Inevitably, things go wrong—family stresses are created and magnified, the project's supervising team of psychologists succumbs to internal conflict, and "Brooks" begins losing his confidence, perspective, and sanity.

Looking at Brooks' 1979 first feature some twenty years later, it's amazing how many of his comic predictions have come to pass—contemporary television thrives on voyeuristic observations of "real people," preferably selected for negative chemistry and placed under as much artificial stress as the producers can induce. This mock documentary is definitely a comedy, but it has much to say about the effects of media intrusion on American life, and it says it with the edgy style bred in Brooks' early short films for Saturday Night Live, scripted with cynical wit by Brooks, Monica Johnson and Harry Shearer.

Charles Grodin is perfectly cast as Warren Yeager, a mild-mannered veterinarian who finds his personal life becoming less and less his own as the project progresses. His reaction when a critical surgical procedure on a prize racehorse goes wrong due to his own stress-induced error is priceless, filled with embarrassment, pathos, and a nearly tragic sense of personal failure. Frances Lee McCain is equally real as his wife Jeannette, whose confusion over the chaos engulfing her family never gives way to hysteria. Albert Brooks takes significant risks as "Albert Brooks," allowing his screen persona to be vain, pushy and egotistical, willing to sacrifice his hapless subjects for the sake of a "big finish" when his funding and support are threatened. (In yet another astonishing bit of prescience, the desperate "Brooks" cites Star Wars, Superman and Gone With the Wind as his filmic inspirations, and the references have held up very well indeed.)

This isn't a gag-a-minute movie—as is often the case with "mockumentaries," some will get the joke and others won't. Albert Brooks' humor at its most successful depends on an understanding of the filmmaking process as well as human nature, and the richness of the satire is often smuggled in beneath the pain of its characters. One comes away believing that Real Life was significantly ahead of its time—I hope this DVD release allows this smart little comedy to take its place next to This Is Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman, its spiritual heirs.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Paramount presents Real Life in its original 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with an anamorphic transfer. The source print suffers some emulsion and dirt flecking here and there, and the film itself exhibits quite a bit of grain and softness in several scenes. The DVD transfer looks solid enough, given the film's age and budget, with good black level, naturalistic color and no distracting digital artifacts.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Real Life retains its original monophonic theatrical soundtrack, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 format for ProLogic decoding to the center speaker channel. Most of the dialogue was recorded live in less-than-controlled environments, leading to substantial background noise and hiss, but the track features some degree of bass, dialogue is certainly comprehensible and the audio likely sounds as good as it ever did. A competent digital presentation of a low-budget mono soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview with Director Albert Brooks
Extras Review: Paramount supports Real Life on DVD with 15 picture-menu chapter stops, optional English subtitles, and a couple of nice extras:

Theatrical Trailer:

The film's original theatrical trailer is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic format, and it's a very worthwhile inclusion. The trailer does not use any footage from the film, but instead presents Albert Brooks promising an amazing cinematic experience. After a color introduction, the film shifts into old-fashioned red/blue anaglyphic 3D format (unfortunately, no glasses are included with the disc) as Brooks throws water at the camera and invites an elderly paddleball expert in to "amaze" the audience. Funny stuff, and one of the few examples of 3D available on DVD.

Interview with Director Albert Brooks:

This is a newly produced eleven-minute interview, featuring Mr. Brooks discussing Real Life, his first feature film. The interview is too often interrupted by panned & scanned clips from the film, and there's not as much content here as a feature-length commentary would carry, but Mr. Brooks' comments are still informative and entertaining.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

Real Life is a surprisingly prescient "mockumentary" by Albert Brooks, with touching and hilarious "straight" comic performances from all concerned. Paramount's DVD features a competent audio/video transfer and some valuable supplements. Recommended.

Dale Dobson 2001-02-27