The anti-road movie

Julie Hagerty looking grim in Albert Brooks’ Lost in America (1985), a truly dark comedy about the American dream-turned-nightmare, its “upbeat” end title informing us that its central couple are expecting a child notwithstanding.  I’ve always rather enjoyed Brooks’ films, which are usually smarter than your average comedy; Mother (1996) is a particular favorite.  Mother’s somewhat nervy humor, though, is softened by an ultimately benign reaffirmation of love, family, and the ability to “solve” the Oedipal complex (among other psychological problems) for good.  What Lost in America affirms is much more sinister—that the American dream is a hoax, the myth of “finding yourself” on the road is a delusion, and it’s better to content yourself with your miserable (if high-paying) job than to go in search of true happiness.  It’s a wonderfully twisted laying-bare of the ideology of the road movie, one that directly references Easy Rider (1969)—not so much in order to subvert it as to re-affirm that film’s own grim conclusions; as characters in Lost in America remind us, that classic American road movie ends with its badass anti-heroes splattered across the pavement.  (“Isn’t the ending great?”  “I loved it!” Brooks’ characters gush, blind to their own irony.)  And this is perhaps the only movie I can think of that uses Sinatra’s “New York, New York” as a kind of tragic punch-line.               

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