With its deliberate avoidance of punch lines and insistent drift into darkness and disaster, Albert Brooks's 1979 film left audiences baffled when first released. It now seems like one of the most innovative comedies of the decade, suggesting a hundred different ways in which movie comedy could escape the gag-heavy, character-destroying styles imposed by television (if only it wanted to). The subject, naturally, is television: Brooks stars as a documentary maker filming the life of a typical American family; when reality proves too dull, he imposes himself, manufacturing crises and picking fights. Brooks satirizes his subjects' willingness to destroy their lives to make a good show, but also allows them to retain a basic dignity and human integrity, which eventually emerge triumphant over the devastating demands of show business. With Charles Grodin and Frances Lee McCain.
By Dave Kehr