Modern Romance (1981)


(director/writer: Albert Brooks; screenwriter: Monica Johnson; cinematographer: Eric Saarinen; editor: David Finfer; music: Lance Rubin; cast: Albert Brooks (Robert Cole), Kathryn Harrold (Mary Harvard), Tyann Means (Waitress), Bruno Kirby (Jay), Jane Hallaren (Ellen), Karen Chandler (Neighbor), James L. Brooks (David), Thelma Leeds (Albert Brooks’ Mother,as Thelma Bernstein), George Kennedy (Himself); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Andrew Scheinman/Martin Shafer; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; 1981)
“Ends up more insightful than funny.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Albert Brooks (“Lost in America”/”Real Life”), in his second feature, casts himself as Robert Cole, a neurotic workaholic Los Angeles film editor in love with the beautiful banker Mary Harvard (Kathryn Harrold) in a bumpy relationship that opens with them breaking up for the nth time under his initiative. His assistant editor (Bruno Kirby) gives him some chemicals to keep him calm, and while under the influence makes a date with someone he can barely remember from the past named Ellen (Jane Hallaren) and the next day stocks up on vitamins and jogging gear. He also buries himself in his work, editing a B-film space adventure starring George Kennedy that’s directed by the compulsive James L. Brooks. Still obsessed with Mary, he contacts her. She relents, agreeing to give the romance another try. It concludes in a bittersweet way, with Robert unable to overcome his jealousies but unable to let her go. When the laughs stop, there’s pause for serious reflection.

Brooks’ loser character is not a very likeable one, as he’s a self-absorbed narcissist who uses people, constantly kvetches and is unable to deal with the real world. He’s able to draw comedy from his neurosis over his possessive love up to a point; the film moves to the near-tragic stage as Robert can’t control his insecurities and self-destructive nature. By the conclusion it ends up more insightful than funny.