Did you know that Albert Brooks’ catalog has been placed on Netflix? Now you do? And, may I suggest watching Real Life, a darkly hilarious mockumentary about reality television and the manipulation of media?
Albert Brooks stars as Albert Brooks, a narcissistic egomaniacal producer-director who wants to film a family for a year and condense it into a single film. After putting a litany of families through a gauntlet of tests, Brooks comes up with two families that were equally normal. The deciding factor? Location. One family was in Wisconsin while the other was in Arizona; and who wants to winter in Wisconsin?
Immediately after filming starts, tragedy and strife hit the family. Jeannette, the mom, has a malfunctioning IUD. Her husband kills a horse. Tragedy wrecks the family…and ruins the show, causing Albert Brooks to launch into damage control, interfering with their life while claiming to be an invisible force that purely records the daily life. Not helping matters are his film cameras: science fiction helmets that take away the humanity of the observers and transforms them into a surrealistic presence that constantly hovers around the family members.
I suspect that when Albert Brooks made Real Life, he was only making a light satire of an easy target. At that point, there had been one reality series, PBS’ An American Family, released so many years earlier it barely seemed to affect television or entertainment. Barring the ongoing Candid Camera type shows, long form reality television had gone into hiding until Bunim-Murray revived it with The Real World in the 1990s. But, even then, nobody knew what types of horror the genre reality television would unleash upon the world. Nobody could have predicted The Anna Nicole Show, any of the Playboy shows, Paris Hilton’s serieses, the Kardashians. There was nothing like the Duggans or the Shannon-Thompsons, both creations that fictional Albert Brooks would have wet dreams over.
Real Life is Network 2.0. It seems to stem from combining the coldly business-like nature of Hollywood with the driven must-do attitude required by producers and directors and inserting the genre of reality. It foretells our own navel-gazing obsession with our own lives, but also foretells exactly how aloof and distant Hollywood is from reality. Thinking that his movie is going to fail, Albert Brooks bemoans, “Why did I pick Reality? I don’t know anything about it! I’m a stupid jerk.” On one sense, that’s hilarious because who doesn’t know anything about reality? On the other, this guy is a stupid jerk because he truly doesn’t know anything about reality. He is so disconnected from it that he thinks dressing up as a clown is going to cheer up a family plagued by death. Similarly, on another level, these are the people controlling our media. These are the people who are telling our stories about ourselves. What the fuck do these people know about everyday American life? They can’t even tell a reality series without meddling? That’s the genius of Real Life. It extends its long arm past the easy topic of reality television into questioning the construct of how we choose storytellers, what we choose as stories, and how much value we place on those stories.
Real Life streams on Netflix