Sunday, December 7, 2014

The other night I watched Defending Your Life, a 1991 film starring Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, and Lee Grant. It was written and directed by Brooks, with music by Erroll Garner and Michael Gore.

Brooks plays Daniel Miller, a 40-year-old advertising executive who dies in a car accident on his birthday and is sent to the afterlife. It turns out that the Universe sends souls to Earth ("some lovely take-out places") to overcome their fears. Each time a person dies, they go to Judgment City, where their past life is reviewed and they are either allowed to move on to a new world or sent back to Earth to overcome more fear.

Judgment City is very much like Earth, so that the souls there feel comfortable and are not stressed out by the review process. Souls live in hotels, have all their entertainment needs met, and all the food is the best tasting stuff you've ever eaten. (You can even eat as much as you want and not gain a single pound.)

Daniel meets Bob Diamond (Torn), a resident of Judgment City who tells him that he'll have to defend his life if he wants to avoid returning to Earth. Incidents from his past life will be brought up by the prosecutor (Grant), while Diamond will attempt to show how Daniel overcame his fears. Over the next four days, Daniel will review nine days from his life on Earth.

Daniel is not the confident type, and he obsesses over how many days are being reviewed (is nine more or less normal?), worries about the chummy relationship between his defender and prosecutor, and is annoyed by the patronizing way Diamond treats him.

On his second night in Judgment City, Daniel meets Julie (Streep), a vivacious and beautiful woman who seemingly lived a perfect life. Daniel begins to fall in love. But then it seems as if he's destined to return to Earth, while Julie moves onto a higher plane of existence...

The film has this delightful visual look to it -- familiar, and yet not. Just like Judgment City! It has a sweet and rousing soundtrack that is wonderfully effective during the initial scenes in Judgment City and the film's finale.

I love this movie. It's not funny-ha-ha, but it is humorous and has a few laugh-out-loud moments. It's sweet, gentle, and thoughtful, and I can watch it over and over.

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