Real Life (1979 film)

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Real Life
Directed byAlbert Brooks
Produced byPenelope Spheeris
Written byAlbert Brooks
Monica Johnson
Harry Shearer
StarringAlbert Brooks
Charles Grodin
Frances Lee McCain
J. A. Preston
Matthew Tobin
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • March 2, 1979 (1979-03-02) (New York)[1]
Running time
99 minutes
Box office$364,642[2]

Real Life is a 1979 American comedy film starring Albert Brooks (in his directorial debut), who also co-authored the screenplay. It is a spoof of the 1973 reality television program An American Family and portrays a documentary filmmaker named Albert Brooks who attempts to live with and film a dysfunctional family for one full year.

Charles Grodin co-stars as the family's patriarch who consents to permit cameras in his Arizona home. Real-life producer Jennings Lang also has an acting role in Real Life.


A documentary filmmaker (Albert Brooks) enlists a family for a new cinematic and scientific experiment that intends to capture every waking moment of their daily life on film. Out of all the families that are chosen, the ordinary family of the Yeagers of Phoenix, Arizona are chosen. It is a project Brooks confidently announces to a large gathering in the city, even greeting them with a song. Two other doctors are enlisted in order to evaluate the family through the progression of the project.

The concept is for the Yeagers and their two children to go about their business at their Phoenix home, work and school as if nothing is different from a typical day, ignoring the fact that men wearing cameras that look like Star Wars helmets are recording every move they make and every word they say.

Brooks promises to be as unobtrusive as possible, taking up a separate residence in the neighborhood and promising not to interfere. Little by little, though, the stress of everyday life is complicated by the presence of the film crew. Brooks also becomes the unwitting object of Mrs. Yeager's attentions.

Yeager, a veterinarian, becomes grief-stricken when he is filmed accidentally causing a horse's death. A grandparent's death similarly upsets Jeannette. Soon the couple stops talking, becoming, as Brooks puts it, "lifeless" in their every day life. The unscrupulous man from Hollywood is likely to go to any lengths to make his film more interesting, even if it means dressing up as a clown to cheer them up. After a meeting between Brooks and the others, one of the doctors leaves the project, citing how it seems to have lost control. He soon publishes a book that is negative of the project, equating it to a cult. At one point, a film crew from a television station attempts to write a "fluff piece" about the family, but Brooks angrily throws them out of the house. Soon after, the news stations attempt to get coverage of the family, barraging their lives no matter where they go. Not long after, another meeting of Brooks and the people of the institute occurs, revolving around the possibility of ending the project. Brooks attempts to defend keeping the project going by bringing the Yeagers, but the family decides to abandon the project. Despite his pleas for them to stay, they do not change their minds. Soon after, Brooks decides that the only way to keep the project going is to set their house on fire, citing the burning of Atlanta from Gone with the Wind, joyfully exclaiming on how spectacular of an ending this is.



Roger Ebert gave the film one star out of four and wrote that it "gets most of its laughs in the first 10 minutes, slides into a long middle stretch of repetitive situations and ends on a note of embarrassing hysteria. An idea is not enough for a movie. Characters have to be developed, comic situations have to be set up before they can pay off and the story should have a conclusion instead of a dead stop. 'Real Life' fails in all of those areas — fails so miserably that it lets its audiences down."[3] Conversely, Janet Maslin of The New York Times praised the film as an "often very funny assault on manners, moviemaking, an allegedly typical American family and everything its members hold dear ... Its manner is deadpan and sly, so sly that some viewers may not find it comic at all. But for anyone well-disposed toward Mr. Brooks, who is never without his absolute insincerity and irrational good cheer, 'Real Life' is full of delightful nonsense, a very funny account of one man's crusade to capture all the truth and wisdom that money can buy."[4] Variety noted, "Expanding on the deadpan satiric tone of the short parodies and pseudo-documentaries he's filmed in the past for NBC's 'Saturday Night Live' into his first feature, Albert Brooks has come up with a mostly very funny (though uneven) take-off on social-minded docu filmmaking that stands to draw boxoffice support from the young adult, primarily college crowd that's made the late-night tv show the success it is."[5] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote, "Admittedly, documentary filmmaking doesn't sound like the greatest subject to be satirized, but 'Real Life' is full of undeniable laughs."[6] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called Grodin "wonderful to watch" and thought that the film "generates some spectacular moments," but "the movie, like the experiment, runs out of steam well before it is finished and, like many a promising routine, is stuck for a sock ending."[7] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post stated, "Albert Brooks may be the Woody Allen of the 1980s. His extraordinary first feature, 'Real Life,' demonstrates a potential genius for movie comedy and is animated by a peculiarly fertile and subtle imagination."[8] David Ansen of Newsweek wrote that the film "doesn't quite come off, for all its funny ideas. It feels like a 30-minute gag stretched to fill a feature film, and the repetitiousness of the situation gets wearisome. It's a one-note movie, and Brooks's performance doesn't help: he's like an aggressive emcee who doesn't know when to shut up and turn the show over to his guests. That may be the point, but it's also the problem."[9]

As of May 2019, Real Life holds a rating of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 20 reviews, with an average score of 6.75/10.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Real Life - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  2. ^ "Real Life (1979) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 23, 1979). "Real Life". Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (March 2, 1979). "Screen: Albert Brooks Turns 'Real Life' Into Movie". The New York Times. C12.
  5. ^ "Film Reviews: Real Life". Variety. March 7, 1979. 20.
  6. ^ Siskel, Gene (July 30, 1979). "Brooks' 'Real Life' is full of real off-the-wall laughs". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 5.
  7. ^ Champlin, Charles (March 23, 1979). "A Funny Quest for 'Real Life'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 32.
  8. ^ Arnold, Gary (May 30, 1979). "The Real, Live Comic And His 'Real Life'". The Washington Post. B1.
  9. ^ Ansen, David (March 12, 1979). "Family Plot". Newsweek. 89.
  10. ^

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