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I've been a fan of Albert Brooks since the early 90's. I saw Defending Your Life over and over again as a teenager, and to this day it remains one of my all time favorite comedies. In the years following I saw his earlier works, Lost in America and Modern Romance, both of which I think are brilliant films. His film that came after Defending Your Life, Mother is fairly uneven, but overall it's funny and worth seeing. His voice work in Finding Nemo is great, and he's always one of The Simpsons best guests. When Looking for Comedy came out in 2005, I was fairly excited, but the critics beat it too death before I got a chance to see it. After The Muse, which I thought was pretty terrible, I didn't want to rush into seeing another wreck from him and have my opinion lowered, so it took me three years to get around to it.

Unfortunately the critics were right.
Looking for Comedy is a pretty lame film, there are only a few moments that I laughed at. I don't think the average American audience would find the film funny at all. I hope that he hasn't lost it as a filmmaker, there aren't many guys around that write, direct and star in their own films. The greatest of all-time, Woody Allen has moved behind the camera. Off the top of my head, I can't think of anyone else who's doing it besides Brooks and Edward Burns, who I've never been a real fan of.

In Looking for Comedy, Brooks plays a version of himself; big stretch. In the opening scene, one of the few funny ones in the film, Penny Marshall playing herself, is casting a film she's directing and looking for a Jimmy Stewart type. Brooks shows up to audition, has a brief chat with her and is shown the door, it's obvious he's not the right guy. He's been getting that a lot lately. Never the handsome-leading-man type, as he's getting older, he's losing out on more roles than ever. So when an opportunity comes through the government, for an assignment to go to India and find out what the Muslim culture finds funny, he's intrigued. His motivation is a Medal of Honor, his reluctance is in the 500 page report he has to write about it, but through his wife's encouragement, he decides to take the job.

Along for the ride are two government agents who are supposed to help him in his assignment. One is completely humorless, takes his job seriously and doesn't seem to want to help at all. The other is a fan of Brooks, and considers himself a bit of a comedian, but also isn't much help. Once in India, Brooks finds that almost nothing, except for an small, empty office has been set up. He finds himself interviewing the locals for someone who can assist him, but nobody gets what he's doing or seems qualified in the least. Until he meets Maya, she types quickly, has written a large report for college and has the motivation to understand Brooks' sense of humor. They start by doing man-in-the-street interviews, asking people what makes them laugh; after a couple of days, and only a half a page of answers, he decides to take another course.

Instead, he'll put on a comedy show, covering all sorts of comedy, from the low-brow to the intellectual, and whatever the audience laughs at, he'll fill his report with. It's one of the few inspired moments in the film, and the only one that provided a few deep laughs. But he's doing obscure jokes, that would fly over the average American's head, let alone his mostly Muslim and Hindu audience. He does a bit where he plays an incompetent ventriloquist, and then tries to do some improve, to involve the audience by asking them questions, then changes all the audiences answers because he can't find a joke with them. He does it so dryly, with so little showmanship, that it took me, an Albert Brooks fan, a couple of minutes to figure out that that was the joke. Unsurprisingly the audience doesn't laugh at all.

The film peaks at that moment. It continues on with Brooks traveling illegally into Pakistan to meet with a comedy troupe, where he does the same routine, with better results. Unknowingly, the Indian and Pakistan governments have been following him, and there's a slight subplot about him starting a bit of a cold war between the nations, that doesn't really pay off until the very end of the film, in the background. The whole film's like that.

It's almost like Brooks didn't want the audience to laugh at the film. He doesn't find any comedy in the Muslim world and he almost seems ashamed of his own funny business. I'm sure there's some deeper meaning that I'm missing, maybe about how we all need to find the funny within ourselves. Maybe now that he's older, he's getting more experimental, or the film could truly be a misfire, which I don't want to believe.
Looking for Comedy has a few great moments, with a lot of boring ones in between, which drags the film down. With his next one, I'd like him to get back to his observational humor, maybe do something about getting older, where he's not necessarily playing himself, with a ton of insider jokes. I think only the biggest Albert Brooks' fans will appreciate this one, and then, only as one of his lesser films. - Grade: C-

1 Response to Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World:

  1. I'm glad to see this got the grade I was hoping it would.