MODERN ROMANCE (79) (second viewing: 85)

Directed by: Albert Brooks (1981)

Starring: Albert Brooks, Kathryn Harrold, Bruno Kirby, James L. Brooks

The Pitch: A film editor stumbles through an on-again-off-again relationship with his girlfriend.

Theo Sez: First proper viewing (I'd seen bits on TV years ago) for what's probably the definitive Brooks movie, if only because he's the only person onscreen during most of the first third ; or I guess his character is, but it's hard to say exactly where one ends and the other begins - on the one hand because the detail is so sharp (and the playing so natural) one just assumes he's playing himself rather than inventing, but also, on the other, because surely no-one would want to identify himself with a character so immature and exasperating. It's one of the screen's finest (that's to say least cuddly, most cold-eyed) portraits of neurosis - of a man, or man-child, so insensitive he barely notices other people's needs (he tells people he'll call them right back, though he's just written their phone number in the air with his finger), so self-absorbed he talks incessantly to himself (with the air of pepping up a good friend), so deluded he thinks he can get away with hurting people's feelings just by explaining what a tough time he's been going through, so needy and demanding he seeks constant reassurance, even when it destroys his relationships : "I love you," he tells his long-suffering girlfriend, making up after a protracted argument ; "I know you do," she replies wearily ; "Well, I guess that's the same as 'I love you too'," he can't resist whining, and you just want to yell Shut up, you jerk! That he somehow remains likeable may be because he's as much sinned against as sinning, put-upon by overbearing sporting-goods salesmen and know-nothing directors (anyone who's ever been an editor will identify) ; the film is minor, and badly marred (like LOST IN AMERICA) by an over-abrupt ending, but rather priceless - funny, perceptive, unsparingly honest. It's a long, steep drop from this to the self-congratulation of MOTHER. [Second viewing, 21 years later (August 2020): Even more impressed, though this is surely a candidate for cancellation nowadays, so stalker-ish and controlling is the protagonist's behaviour - though he always has a plausible, even sometimes charming (or romantic!) rationalisation, that's the genius of the film. Queasy psychological horror barely disguised as (very funny) comedy, as chilling as any iteration of GASLIGHT. His body hair is also quite alarming, by today's ruthless standards.]