Sony // 1981 // 94 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 30th, 2006
He thought dating would be easy...
Robert Cole (Albert Brooks, Finding Nemo) is one of Hollywood's brightest film editors. He's also one of the most notoriously neurotic daters when it comes to the opposite sex. At the beginning of Modern Romance we find Robert and his girlfriend, Mary (Kathryn Harold, Into The Night), having lunch and an unexpected breakup. Distraught, Robert finds solace (sort of) in his best friend and coworker, Jay (Bruno Kirby, City Slickers), illegal depressants, rock music, and other relationships. But the sulking Robert wants Mary back, and he will stop at nothing to make sure that they end up together. Yet even when he's able to woo Mary back into his arms, Robert's suspicions and neuroses get the better of him, once again driving her away and making sure that their Modern Romance is anything but smooth sailing!
Albert Brooks is an acquired taste. I've always considered him the poor man's Woody Allen -- his neuroses are the core of his comedy, although Brooks's films have not garnered the acclaim that Woody's have. This is a shame because almost all of Brooks's films are funny, acidic, and sometimes poignant portrayals of love, friendship, and the deep-seated need for therapy.
In Brooks's best films he's able to tap into experiences everyone deals with. In Mother, one of his funniest films to date, Brooks tackles the subject of what it's like to have poor female relationships and how your parental figures can often factor into your love life. Lost In America found Brooks dealing with a midlife crisis (his answer: chuck it all and live off a nest egg in a Winnebago motor home). And in what may be one of his loftiest films, Defending Your Life, he focuses on what happens after we die -- and the possibility that even in the afterlife we're never free of our earthly follies.
Modern Romance (a funny title considering its age) is not Brooks's best film, but it is one of his funniest. Those who have ever weathered the world of relationships will immediately relate to Robert's struggles with finding, keeping, and then losing the woman of his dreams. The movie is not so much about dating as it is about being comfortable in your own skin. A great sequence finds Robert separated (permanently, he assumes) from Mary and attempting to fill his voids with things: record collections, Quaaludes, peppy self-esteem talks and other women. These are funny scenes because anyone who has fought through heartache knows that nothing can cure it but time, which is something Robert doesn't want to wait for.
The movie has not aged well when it comes to costumes, sets, and attitudes (an especially clunky cameo features George Kennedy as himself), but the themes are universal and timeless: love makes us all complete and utter idiots. Brooks's brand of indifferent humor -- punctuated by a few priceless moments with Bruno Kirby and James L. Brooks (yes, that James L. Brooks) -- makes Modern Romance an easy recommendation.
Modern Romance is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Finally, I can throw out my tattered old VHS copy of the film -- as well as the horrid full-frame transfer on said tape -- and upgrade to a new widescreen transfer! While no one will mistake this low-budget early '80s comedy for The Lord of the Rings, the fact is that it looks very good considering its age. The colors are mostly solid and the black levels in fine shape. The picture quality for Modern Romance isn't perfect, but it's the best the film has ever looked, and for that fans should be thankful.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo in English. The good news is that this sound mix is clearly heard and well recorded. The bad news is that there isn't much else to it than that -- this is a solid front-heavy mix that features zilch in the way of surround sounds or directional effects. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Finally, there is nothing "modern" about this release of Modern Romance -- not a single supplement has been included on this disc.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated PG