Lost in America (1985)


“Most people lead their entire lives without ever having the courage to break the mold, to find out who they really are and what life is all about. Those that do should take Route 16. This goes through Utah, avoiding the state of Nevada completely.” –Title card at the end of Lost in America

My only exposure to an Albert Brooks character so far has been overprotective Marlin from the Pixar movie Finding Nemo. When I was watching him Lost in America, sometimes I had to remind myself that the protagonist’s name is David, he has hands instead of fins, and he’s traveling across the country to find himself…not his lost boy. Some things are the same. For one, Brooks’ characters are easily distraught and could all benefit from scheduling a few therapy sessions.

When David doesn’t get a promotion he wants, he has a breakdown, quits his job, and convinces his wife Linda to do the same. They sell their house and load up an RV to drive across the country and do some soul-searching. The quote at the top of this blog references what happens shortly into the trip; in a night of thoughtlessness, Linda goes down to the casino in a Los Vegas hotel and gambles away all $100k of the money they earned from selling their house. Their “nest egg” is gone.

While I was not familiar with Albert Brooks, I was definitely familiar with the actress who plays Linda, Julie Hagerty. She is well loved for her roles in comedies like What About Bob? and Airplane!. Her role in Lost in America impresses me the most. The story certainly has its funny moments, but there’s also a cornucopia of opportunities for Julie to show off her acting chops. She makes the audience start to believe that Linda might just be too sweet and mild for a sporadic man like David. Then, she whips the tables around by blowing the couple’s life savings. Is this a rare occurrence or does she have a massive hidden gambling problem? Either way, she’s now on par with Albert Brooks’ level of crazy, which is hard to do.

In his book Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy, Saul Austerlitz devotes a chapter to Albert Brooks. He writes about Lost in America, “Brooks is mocking the very foundations of the dream factory he works in. Truth, romance, freedom – these are only products the movies sell us. David and Linda are lost in America because there is no real America to find.” This sounds depressing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe the American dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and maybe it’s not something we should worry about chasing after. Soon after watching Lost in America I tweeted this: “Stop worrying about living THE dream and start living YOUR dream (@mrkeithcantrell).” Easier said than done, I know!

Next time you’re fed up with life and tempted to make a rash decision, don’t do it. Just log into your Netflix account and watch this movie, where David and Linda will act rashly on your behalf.