Albert Brooks has been one of the giants of American comedy for half a century. Albert Brooks: Defending Your Life is a tribute to his talent and insight, directed by actor-filmmaker Rob Reiner, who met Brooks at Beverly Hills High School and has been his best friend ever since. Framed by a leisurely dinner between Brooks and Reiner at a Los Angeles restaurant, the movie follows Brooks from his early childhood in a showbiz family through his years as a standup comic, a short filmmaker on “Saturday Night Live,” a writer-director-star of film comedies (including “Real Life,” “Modern Romance,” and “Lost in America”), and a character actor in other people’s movies and TV series (including “Taxi Driver,” “Drive,” “Out of Sight,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Broadcast News,” which got Brooks an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor).
This is not a detached, analytical work, nor does it try to be. It’s the movie equivalent of a memorial service for a beloved individual who’s still alive—a concept that Reiner makes official by quoting from a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode wherein Brooks (playing himself) is the subject of such a tribute, then is exposed as a hoarder of Covid-related supplies and ostracized—a twist worthy of one of Brooks’ comedy routines or movie scripts, which often take a familiar comic concept and turn it inside-out or upside-down. “Curb” creator and star Larry David is one of many famous colleagues who appear onscreen as expert witnesses to Brooks’ influence on their own work.