Forty years ago today, one of the funniest, most perceptive, and all-around best movies of the 1980s was released: Albert Brooks’ Lost in America. It’s about David and Linda Howard (Brooks and Julie Hagerty, never better on film), a Los Angeles couple. When David, a successful ad exec, doesn’t get the promotion he expected, he snaps, walks out on his boss, his job, and upends his and his wife’s lives.
He trades the BMW for a Winnebago and the two, relying on a nest egg of $100,000 (which went farther then than it could now), become nomads, traveling cross-country. (“This is just like Easy Rider, except it’s our turn! We can drop out, and we still have our nest egg!”) They’re not really moving toward anything, just running from what they found dissatisfying.
But they can’t outrun themselves, and pretty soon, new complications arise. Bummer for them, but hilarious for us. Especially since Lost is genuinely unpredictable, evading conventional wisdom and formula tropes. Of course, these twists, these revolutions, are not unfamiliar to those familiar with Brooks’ reactive comedy (he co-wrote the movie with Monica Johnson). Like the book Ask Again, Yes says, “Marriage tests all the seams,” and so, too, does the union between David and Linda hit some bumps.
Lost impressively works across time as cultural commentary, too – it doesn’t just reflect on the consumptive 1980s (when the Me Decade only really allowed the rich to profit) but also serves as a warning of the perils of being tone-deaf to the world around you. Styles may have changed, but the choices and fates of David and Linda re no different than those who went to college twenty-five years ago. Or fifteen. Or five.
Fortunately, Lost in America is now available on Blu-Ray from The Criterion Collection. Even if you’re forced to count your pennies, this film is still money well spent.