Immediately following his death by bus, Daniel finds himself in the afterlife facing his past. If you can't make a case for having lived a full and fearlessuperb music score won an Academy Award.s life, you must go back to... more » Earth and try again. But Daniel doesn't want to go back after he meets Julia in this heavenly fable written and directed by Albert Brooks.« less
Kathleen P. from OAKLAND, CA Reviewed on 1/30/2017...
Awesome. A gem.
Is this Heaven?
A. Gyurisin | Wet, Wild, Wonderful Virginia | 09/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Defending Your Life is one of the smartest, funniest, and original films to come out of the 1990s. Albert Brooks, playing both behind and in front of the camera, does a fantastic job of creating this "courtroom drama" set in Purgatory. By keeping a the films themes short and simple, enticing us with brilliant performances by Meryl Streep and Rip Torn, and bringing a true sense of fantasy to this picture, Brooks keeps us hooked from the opening scenes until the last. Panned by most critics, I actually found this film to be extremely witty with a Wes Anderson-esque type of dry martini humor. Brooks is easily able to transform himself into a likeable "every man" that finds himself defending his "normal" life. What works is that it feels and seems like your own life. Brooks' character isn't a superhero, he isn't a genius (only using 3% of his brain), and he isn't a playboy, he is your average human on the street. Makes decent money, celebrates being alone, just bought a new BMW, and is coasting through life rather simply. Sound like anyone you may know? Brooks creates this sensation that Judgment City could exist, that the trials of your life could happen, and within all of this chaos and confusion, love could emerge.
Albert Brooks is a very smart writer. He wouldn't create your typical Hollywood love story and send it through the recycling machine. His approach to love in this film is totally random, somewhat sporadic, but yet honestly real. There is a mystery between he and Meryl Streep's relationship. That is what I loved so much about them. Typically in films of this nature you have this elaborate story of how two people meet, they fall in love, they fight, and suddenly discover that their passion is stronger than ever before (normally due to some unforeseen ... or clichéd moment), but not in this film. Brooks approaches love as if it already exists. He hints towards the notion that these two may have been in Judgment City before, that maybe they have already had their awkward courtship, that maybe the climactic cliché has already happened, and now they are just rediscovering themselves. Brooks sets this up with Streep's first lines, which are simply, "Haven't we met before?" While this may not seem like it is that exciting, the fact that they are in Judgment City after dying, and two random people recognize each other is heartwarming. I was immediately attached to these two characters from the moment they met in the Comedy Club. Their emotions didn't seem created by Hollywood, but instead created by the brilliant craftsmanship of Brooks' words. If you aren't connected to the courtroom antics of this film, than the spark that Streep creates with Brooks will surely keep you grounded for good.
I would also like to applaud Brooks for his ability to create a whole new world from the inside out. Just as confused as Brooks is when he first arrives to Judgment City, we are forced to see this creative world through his eyes, and he is not afraid to demonstrate his attention to detail. The concept of food in this film kept me laughing long after the final credits rolled. The scene in the Italian restaurant with the waiter and the pies ranks among one of the funniest scenes in a film. In fact, as I type this review, I am still laughing about it. His creative mind also allowed us to consider the possibility of reincarnation and the existence of bigger and better worlds. He plants us in Judgment City, but doesn't leave us there. He allows us to travel while making us feel comfortable, thus keeping a smile on our faces throughout the entire visit. He makes us laugh, either through his own words, or through that of Rip Torn, who nearly stole every scene possible. As I continue to watch more of Rip Torn's work, I am beginning to see that he is quite a versatile actor that has very deep comedic roots. If it wasn't the instant connection between Streep and Brooks that kept this film glued together, than it definitely was the charisma of Rip Torn in the courtroom.
Finally, I would like to say that watching this film in a post-Matrix universe, there are some interesting parallels between the two. When Rip Torn is talking about allowing humans to go through to another life, or sending them back to Earth, he references the universe to a machine. Again, living in a post-Matrix world, this immediately darkened the film and perked up my ears. I know this may be grabbing at thin air, but the scene in the Matrix when Cypher is talking about how good the machine makes his steak taste, eerily reminded me of all the food used in this film. There were several other moments just like this that just seemed to fit rather snug. Whether you believe it or not, I believe the Wachowski brothers may have watched this film once or twice before creating their prized trilogy.
Overall, I thought this was an outstanding film. From the instant character excitement to the originality of the script, I thought that this was one of Brooks' best outings. The fact that you could tell that the cast was honestly having a good time in every scene, that you laughed when they laughed (which was quite a bit in this film), and that you could actually enjoy a witty comedy without guns or violence impressed me. Brooks has such a sharp humor that I cannot wait to revisit this movie to catch some of the lines that I may have missed the first time. Streep does a sensational job, while Rip Torn steals every scene he is in. Impressive to say the least, and am happy that the 90s were able to produce one original piece of comedy.
Grade: ***** out of *****"
One of my favorite movies
A. Gyurisin | 05/03/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is wonderful! It gives you that comfortable easy feeling that so very few films can really deliver without being false in some way. Meryl Streep shines as Julia, the lovely woman of Albert Brook's dreams. She is so down to earth that we all fall in love with her. I love the subtlety of this picture. I love the well filled out characters that populate the film My favorite is the waiter at the Italian restaurant, he is so funny! Whoever said that this film has wonderful attention to detail is right. You can watch this film ten times (and I have!), and see something new every time. It is also inspirational, in addition to being humorous. Fear is our worst enemy. It keeps us from the things we love, it bogs us down with trivialities and leads to an ultimately meaningless life. This film explores these themes with a light touch. Also, if you are looking for a film with no sex, no real violence, and very mild language, this is the one for you. This film is terrific, it is in my top 5 favorite movies list. I highly recommend it!"
K. Esmark | STATE COLLEGE PA | 10/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A movie often passed over. Something that truly makes you stop and think each day after you see it. You can bet your life you had better give this a viewing - it may help you Defend your life"
I use 47% of my brain - guess how much you use?
MEWZIK | 02/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you are not a follower of the traditional love story, Defending Your Life is the movie for you. It's more than a non-traditional love story. Brooks dies and goes to Heaven...not so fast. Brooks, throughout his past lives(!) settled for less. Unknown to him, this is his 20th visit to Judgement City, an afterlife evaluation city that makes the final prognosis, if you will, to send him to Heaven or back to earth for the 21st time. With an all-star cast, this has to be my favorite Albert Brooks movie, hands down. Funny, clever and original. Over the last 15 years, I must have turned a couple dozen people on to this movie. A Must Own."
A comedy for big brains
Richard Cody | Oakland, The Golden State | 01/27/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Released in 1991, "Defending Your Life" is one of those rare movies that is at once funny, intelligent and, yes, profound. Writer, director and star Albert Brooks plays Daniel Miller - an advertising executive who finds himself driving headlong into a bus on his birthday. Waking up dead in the perpetually sunny and 74-degree Judgment City, Daniel discovers that he must "defend" the life he lived on Earth - a process which consists of reviewing selected days from his life to determine the extent to which he overcame fear and lived genuinely as a result. If he is found by the two judge panel to have sufficiently conquered fear, he is allowed to pass on to a higher plane, if not he will return to Earth to try again. He is assigned a Defender (played with amiable bluster by Rip Torn) and must argue against a steely Prosecutor (Lee Grant). During the course of his stay in Judgment City, Daniel meets and falls in love with Julia (the lovely Meryl Streep), another recently deceased arrival. Without revealing too much more, it is sufficient to say that the love Daniel develops for Julia is crucial to the outcome of his "trial".This movie was a delight to watch! The humor ranges from wry observation about the human condition to pop culture sight gags such as Shirley Maclaine hosting the Past Lives Pavilion (a Judgment City attraction in which visitors can glimpse their past life incarnations). The philosophy of the film, the idea that fear is a crucial element to be worked through while we are here, resonated deeply with me. It is fear in one form or another, after all, which prevents us from leading genuine lives - the fear of death or the fear of defying Societal Will ("the Dragon of Thou Shalt", to quote Joseph Campbell) and being truly ourselves, for example."Defending Your Life" is the perfect antidote to the flood of moronic comedies that have been so popular of late, a movie that will make you laugh and, perhaps, think."