(director/writer: Albert Brooks; screenwriters: Monica Mcgowan Johnson/Harry Shearer; cinematographer:Eric Saarinen; editor: David Finfer; music: Mort Lindsey; cast: Dick Haynes (Councilman Harris), Albert Brooks (Albert Brooks), Matthew Tobin (Dr. Howard Hill), J.A. Preston (Dr. Ted Cleary), Joseph Schaffler (Paul Lowell), Phyllis Quinn (Donna Stanley), Charles Grodin (Warren Yeager), Frances Lee McCain (Jeannette Yeager), Lisa Urette (Lisa Yeager), Robert Stirrat (Eric Yeager), Jennings Lang (Studio Executive); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Penelope Spheeris; Paramount Home Video; 1979)

Though amusing in spots, it goes too far with its one-note joke until it becomes abrasive.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Albert Brook’s first film is a forerunner of “reality television,” offering his satirical take on the new trend of viewing that is sweeping across America. It’s cowritten with Monica Mcgowan Johnson and Harry Shearer. In a wry comedic way it spoofs making a reality film as Brooks plays himself but as a self-absorbed, obnoxious, pushy comedian who makes a documentary on the typical American family, the Yeager family from Phoenix. Brooks is not afraid to make himself look bad. The patriarch is veterinarian (Charles Grodin), his wife (Frances Lee McCain), young girl (Lisa Urette), and young son (Robert Stirrat). Though amusing in spots, it goes too far with its one-note joke until it becomes abrasive.

The Yeager family is followed around throughout their waking hours by crew members with unique high-tech head-cams that resemble space helmets. It will catch the family in a tiff over dinner, hubby performing an emergency procedure that ends up with the accidental death of a horse on the operating table, the wife visiting her gynecologist with the film crew causing anxiety for the doctor and many behind-the-scenes sequences. Brooks continually ignores the advice of his two psychologist consultants to give the Yeager family more breathing room before the family goes bonkers, as he tries to push the envelope and get some fireworks in the documentary that will sell to the public.

The experimental mockumentary form used by Brooks (and a few other filmmakers at the time like Eric Idle of Monthy Python) has since become a subgenre Hollywood staple. Brooks wrote and directed short films for the new Saturday Night Live television show and he spun off one of his SNL projects into this spoof of the PBS mini-series An American Family (1973). Brooks as the used car lot salesman of movies remains a one-dimensional cartoon characterand the film is so dissonant that it leaves a poor impression when whatever laughter there was (not much on my part) dies down.

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