Lost in America (1985)
Written by Albert Brooks and Monica Johnson
Directed by Albert Brooks
David and Linda are comfortably ensconced in their Southern California yuppie lifestyle with plans to buy a new home and a Mercedes-Benz. Everything changes when David fails to get an anticipated promotion at work. In a moment of passion, he quits and convinces Linda to join him in “finding themselves.” The plan is to purchase a Winnebago and travel across the United States to the East Coast where they will buy a quaint little house. Maybe it’ll be a farmhouse in Connecticut or lighthouse in Maine. David calculates they have a safety net in the form a nest egg of savings. So the couple sets off, and it doesn’t take long before they encounter their first major obstacle in making their dreams a reality.
This is the third in writer-director Albert Brooks’ opening trilogy of movies. The first two being Real Life and Modern Romance. It’s after this point that I began to lose interest in the filmmaker’s work because I see it losing his biting satire and instead he goes for a safer comedy. That doesn’t mean movies like Defending Your Life or Mother are horrible; they feel lesser when you look at Brooks’ first three pictures. Lost in America is my favorite of these pictures, but Modern Romance is vying for first place. What I love so much about Lost is that it so perfectly encapsulates the mindset of the yuppie in the 1980s and what continues today with the disconnect many baby boomers seem to have about the economic plight of their children and grandchildren.
David and Linda only take a chance on discovering themselves when the risk-reward ratio is so grossly leaning in the latter direction. This trip is the least risky they could ever take, and the audience knows they aren’t going to be finding themselves. It’s made evident when, on their first night on the road, they are both easily convinced into booking a honeymoon suite at a Las Vegas hotel. This happens after they drop a hundred dollar palm greasing to the concierge and end up with the junior suite, which is a single room with two heart-shaped beds and a heart-shaped shower.
There’s a beautiful lack of sentimentality in Brooks’ films which stands in stark contrast to most other comedy films coming out in the 1980s. He doesn’t feel that David or Linda deserve our sympathy, but he does want to explore what their experiences illuminate about modern marriages and the middle class’ relationship with its wealth and material goods. David wants to live as a bohemian, acting out his version of “Easy Rider” but you know without any of the risk involved. He’s also obnoxiously intent on always being right, becoming rightfully upset with a decision his wife makes at the halfway mark but then becoming completely unforgiving and sanctimonious. First Linda gets the silent treatment and when David finally deems it time to speak tells her this will be a series of lectures that he’s going to harp on about for the rest of their relationship.
David and Linda do indeed find out who they are by the time the credits roll and it’s two people who have no desire to be uncomfortable in their lives. They have benefitted from living in a particular social class, and the few days they have to spend hustling are more than enough. Personal dignity is not even an impediment to ensuring that life is never difficult again. What Brooks is doing here is telling a story of how a privileged couple got dropped into the world of the flyover states, where most Americans were facing the economic hardships coming to fruition in the second term of Ronald Reagan. Things were great for the people in Los Angeles and New York City but in small Arizona towns, which is where David and Linda end up and they find that “high paying jobs” are a joke to these people who are just living to survive. What’s sad is that so little has changed in the thirty-five years that have passed.