"Petey... Carol... Petey... Carol..."
Albert Brooks walks a fine line for me. Sometimes he’s funny while others he comes off as annoying. I think it depends on how likable he is in his films. Witness Finding Nemo or Defending Your Life where his schtick works because the characters are genuinely heartfelt, sweet characters who try their best but are held back by their personal fears.
I bring up those examples because his work in Modern Romance falls on its face immediately after the opening. By the end of the film, literally nothing has changed for any of the characters and Brooks' neurosis fail to come off cute and register instead as stalker-ish.
He plays Robert, a film editor currently working on a sci-fi film starring George Kennedy, and is in a semi-continuous relationship with Mary, played by the luscious Kathryn Harrold. The opening scene is hilarious as he meets her for dinner then tries to break up with her. Robert demands she not call him, then Mary looks him straight in the eye and asks, “This time?”
It turns out they break up all the time, then get back together, only to break up later and Robert isn’t as much in love with Mary as he is with the pain and essential "rebirth" of the breakup-makeup process.
The film does have its moments like when Robert, post-breakup, is flying high on Quaaludes, but it has one note it hits repeatedly for 90 minutes and it’s not a good one. His first date after the breakup laid me out but afterwards the film simply wasn’t very funny.
Alright, the George Kennedy film was pretty funny as was the discussion with the director afterwards but that’s it. Certainly nothing funny happened after that. Oh Albert, why won’t you make me laugh more? You know I love you, don’t you?
Imagine a film like that and you have Modern Romance. I was hitting my head on the desk in frustration from the moment he finds the phone bill through to the credits, so thanks for the migraine, Al. I suspected based on the premise that My Fair Lady wouldn’t find any of the film funny and when I gave her a verbal highlight reel her response was succinct:
“That doesn’t sound very romantic. Or funny. Why would I watch that?”
This may come with the reputation of being Albert Brooks’ masterpiece but it says less about modern romance than it does about Brooks’ desire to be in a room where Harrold disrobes completely before climbing into bed with him.
If nothing else, you have to admire her willingness to show off her killer, and all-natural, body and for that alone I thank Albert Brooks. But the rest of the film could have been spent, I don’t know, maybe playing a character that actually funny. Or grows.
Then again, Brooks’ point is that that’s the joke. It’s too bad no one told him it wasn't a funny one.