Articles, Film Reviews

Lost in America (1985)

“This is just like Easy Rider; only now it is our turn,” says ad-man David Howard (Albert Brooks) to his wife, Linda (Julie Hagerty), as they decide to reinvent their lives in the spirit of the 1960s counterculture. Uprooting their yuppie lives in favor of a RV and the open road, David and Linda have everything in order to live out their new calling. That is until Linda spends most of their precious $100,000 nest egg in the heat of a Las Vegas moment. Now with only a few hundred dollars left to spare, the despondent married couple must deviate from their original freewheeling plan and find a way to get back on track.

Lost in America is the kind of comedy film that is sometimes outlandish but relatable on all levels. It reminded me a lot of the Vacation film series with its satirical antics that test the very foundation of family systems. However, without the inclusion of children, the film focuses more specifically on the patience and endurance required for a strong marital bond. Brooks expertly articulates these themes through both his direction and lead performance, resulting in a well-tuned balance between insanity and affection that so perfectly defines the relationship between David and Linda.

There are some especially memorable scenes in the film that exemplify David’s mostly calm, though sometimes over-the-top demeanor. For example, there’s a meltdown he has at the Hoover Dam the day after Linda spoils the nest egg that displays his temperamental side. It’s funny in the context of the film because of how the argument happens at the tranquil tourist destination. While David lets it all out at Linda, you see frightened sightseers dodge his scornful temper and scurry from the scene. It shows you the sort of negative energy that David has built up through the years of climbing the corporate ladder; he must not have been the kind of guy to take a vacation here or there.

Aside from the film’s spousal dynamic, there is also a vibe of 1960s counterculture. With Easy Rider mentioned multiple times throughout the film, I view Lost in America as a response to that film. While today the hippie movement seems more like a blip in history, a temporary deviation of norms that has only been minimally replicated since, David seems to take the ideals from that era and apply them to an American Dream-esque ethos. But instead of favoring upward mobility, David and Linda go after a sort of reverse American Dream by shifting the essence of American fulfillment to that of a conquest for their own inner peace and balance with the world. Of course there isn’t a whole lot of peace that comes about on their journey, which contributes to the disorientation of their goals.

Though there are supporting characters here and there (including an unsympathetic casino manager played by the great Garry Marshall), the film relies primarily on the performances of Brooks and Hagerty. It’s the type of actor pairing that I couldn’t picture being any other way. The two have great chemistry, which supplies the film with the sort of drive that never falters for a dull moment. In fact, my only complaint is that the film is over before you know it. Somehow when the characters reach their final destination, I feel like it’s the end of the second act of a three-act structure. The ending seems more like a turning point as opposed to an ending. Perhaps this is Brooks’ way of showing that David and Linda are bound to always be lost… in America.

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