Defending Your Life

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Albert Brooks is at it again, making another movie about one man's quest to redeem himself. Brooks directed, acted, and starred in Defending Your Life, the very funny story of a man defending his life after his death.

Brooks is a Muppie (Middle-aged Urban Professional---what happens to Yuppies after 35) who is clearly beloved by his coworkers. But on his 39th birthday, Daniel (Brooks) absent-mindedly crashes his new BMW convertible into a bus, and finds himself someplace else. The someplace else is Judgement City, and it's a place people go after they die. At first, Daniel is just dazed, and meekly does whatever he is told.

Judgement City is a wonderful creation, and Brooks deserves loads of credit for creating the most amusing afterlife since Beetlejuice. This is the afterlife as if the US government created it---everything is very orderly, there are lots of glass towers, you can eat anything you want and never gain weight, and people who behaved very well in their lives get the best accommodations. Daniel, for example, winds up in a place that's a lot like a Holiday Inn.

Daniel is instructed to go to meet his lawyer, Mr. Diamond. The purpose of a stay in Judgement City is to see if you are ready to go onto the "next stage," or if you need to return to Earth to conquer your fears by living another life. He has to watch himself from nine different days in his life and defend his actions. These scenes show him to be basically well-meaning yet fearful.

When he isn't defending himself, Daniel discovers a woman, Julia (wonderfully played by Meryl Streep). Julia is a very sweet, vivacious woman for someone recently dead. She and Daniel take to each other right away---after all, they are some of the few young people there. It's clear that Julia is destined for the "next stage," and that Daniel, no matter how good his intentions, is destined to return to Earth to try again.

Here's a spoiler only if you've never seen a commercial or trailer for the film:

The ending is shown in every commercial and trailer ever shown for this movie. This was a mistake.

This movie is very sweet and good-natured and very funny. However, aside from Brooks and Streep, the other performances were aggravatingly muted. Jim, my husband, wished Robert Preston was alive to play Mr. Diamond, because Rip Torn gave an annoying, two-note sort of performance. Likewise, Lee Grant was utterly colorless as the prosecuting attorney.

While there is much amusing in this movie, and I do recommend it because the leads are so strong, Brooks belabors a few jokes. The eating-all-you-want comments got to be a bit much, along with the "small brain" jokes. I rate it a 7 on the movie scale.

Oh, members of the Gaffe Squad will notice a minor one when Daniel and Diamond are eating lunch. I already sent a note about it to Premiere magazine.