Local film fanatic Gordon Inman ranks actor/director Albert Brooks protagonists from nicest to meanest
It’s a long story, but recently my in-laws adopted their grand niece and added a toddler dynamic to the family when there had previously been no such thing. The only time my wife and I have seen the little one since the pandemic began was in June, and throughout the day we all spent together she kept calling me a ‘meanie’ and hitting my shoulder. As far as I can tell, there are two explanations for this: first and most likely that I remind her of a younger grown man from her old life who was a ‘meanie,’ and second that she sees something dark and sinister deep inside me that the rest of the family isn’t wise to yet. I’m not worried either way, since I have at least another decade to mend the relationship with my tiny new sister-in-law.
Speaking of meanies, here are all seven characters Albert Brooks has played in the films he’s directed, ranked from nicest to meanest.
7. Defending Your Life
The only character on this list who is delightful from start to finish, which feels like a necessity for his most humanistic work.
6. Lost in America
Although he famously blows up (twice!) to such a degree that his performance inspired Nicolas Winding Refn to cast him as a ruthless villain 25 years later, everyone I’ve spoken to who’s seen this movie considers Brooks’s character justified both times.
5. The Muse
There’s very little to complain about in Brooks’s behavior, especially since the story of a man who meets a modern day Greek muse would be a forced romantic comedy in a lesser director’s hands. His only sin in this case is jealousy, as the eponymous muse (Sharon Stone) appears to provide more inspiration to his wife (Andie MacDowell) than to him by the end of the picture.
4. Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Although Brooks (playing himself for the second time after Real Life) never falters in his narcissism throughout the film, he ruins very little on purpose for a story that’s cut from the same cloth as Elaine May’s Ishtar.
3. Real Life
Doesn’t it speak volumes about the characters Brooks creates for himself that the one who literally sets another family’s house on fire is only the third ‘meanest’ on the list?
There is so much family bickering among the titular mother (Debbie Reynolds) and both her sons (Brooks and Rob Morrow) that it may be easy to overlook how savagely Brooks’s character treats everyone near him. The family dynamic remains relatable to the audience until Brooks employs incest-related humor to embarrass first his mother then his younger brother, both times in public.
1. Modern Romance
It had to be Modern Romance. Brooks’s character (“Robert”) begins the film by consciously breaking up with his on-again, off-again girlfriend Mary (“No, not *again*. This is it. This is the last time. It's for real.”) then spends the next hour and a half in a fit of jealous rage, manipulating his way back into his comfort-driven relationship. The film is a comedy, but the situation is known to all and couldn’t be more serious.