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RUNNING TIME: 98 min.
• Additional Scenes
“Is there anything we can do that won’t piss off the rest of the world more than we have already?”
Albert Brooks (Lost In America), John Carroll Lynch (The Drew Carey Show), Sheetal Sheth (ABCD), Jon Tenney (Masters of Horror: Homecoming), Fred Dalton Thompson (R,TN)
Found, in America.
Entertainment celebrity Albert Brooks (Brooks), hurting for work, accepts a government assignment from actor/politician Thompson (himself) to help improve America’s suffering international relations. His mission: travel to New Delhi and compile a 500-page report on what makes Muslims laugh. Once in India, he does what any showman would do with an unfamiliar audience and falls back on his stock material, hoping it’ll go over. Soon, his activities alarm suspicious officials on both sides of the India/Pakistan border, precipitating a diplomatic crisis.
"Tell you what, Albert. How about you let me handle this International Goodwill thing?"
Albert Brooks is what is known as a ‘comedian’s comedian’. His work often turns on failure and anxiety, and other performers recognize their own worst experiences when they see him intentionally ‘bomb’ onstage. It’s the unspoken lament of the lowly entertainer: Why do audiences have to be so difficult? I’m doing all the work– they just have to laugh.
In the film’s centerpiece, Brooks performs before a roomful of politely unresponsive Indians: he serves up badly-tailored ‘local angle’ jokes, an inept ventriloquism act, and a transparently predetermined ‘improv’ routine. These are authentic Brooks bits, meta-critiques of packaged showbiz. Who here doesn’t remember his appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and Saturday Night Live back in the day?
Are you under 30? Ah. Problem.
The last time that writer/director Brooks played a role named after himself was in Real Life, his prophetic 1979 comedy about what we now call reality-TV. It amuses me to think that we’re catching up with that same character, “Albert Brooks”, still hankering for a Nobel Prize 26 years on, but it’s necessary to distinguish the man from the persona.
The “Brooks” character represents the real Brooks’ worst vision of himself: a self-centered, insular Hollywood creature who lacks any sincere connection to the viewing public, yet craves their respect. When “Brooks” is overheard telling a local would-be comic that “It’s okay to bomb,” that disconnect is revealed as a dangerous liability.
That’s right, folks. This has all been a big joke. Gotcha!
It’s peculiarly brilliant that the movie equates its hero’s naïve arrogance with that of American foreign policy, but does it work? Conceptually, subtextually… yes. But on the surface? No. Looking For Comedy… is ultimately a casualty of the syndrome it attempts to critique— to understand it, one must get to know the culture, learn to speak the language. Is the movie’s own self-absorption part of the joke— that filmmakers who think their work can change the world are deluding themselves? We may never know. The best straight-up laugh is a running gag about a roomful of outsourced telephone support operators, but it never pays off.
The supporting actors are very appealing, particularly Sheth as Brooks’ cute, earnest secretary, Lynch and Tenney as Hollywood-fixated Feds, and a roomful of Al-Jazeera execs who pitch Brooks their idea for a sitcom called “That Darn Jew”.
A couple of deleted scenes, plus a trailer. No making-of, which is a shame: I found myself curious to know how much of the film was shot on location; how much of it was improvised; and whether, while in India, the filmmakers experienced the same culture-clash as the fictional characters. Also, it would have been nice to get a commentary track, if only to discover whether Brooks would deliver it in character or not.