By Donald Liebenson
It's just your typical boy-dumps-girl, boy-has-change-of-heart,
boy-alienates-girl-anew love story. This romantic comedy, the last word on
obsessive, can't-live-with-'em, can't-live-without-'em relationships,
holds a special place in the hearts of Albert Brooks fans.
Brooks stars as film editor Robert Cole, who breaks up--again,
apparently--with Mary (Kathryn Harrold). They are in a no-win situation,
he tells her, like Vietnam. The sequence that follows is an excruciating,
intimately observed tour de force: Robert's long night's journey into day.
Miserable, spaced out on Quaaludes, he stumbles around his apartment,
admiring his record collection ("I love my albums"), rifling
through his Rolodex, making a blind date call he will instantly regret.
He becomes determined to win Mary back, but again falls prey to his
possessiveness and paranoia, as when he happens to find Mary's phone bill
and becomes obsessed over a long-distance number.
Modern Romance is characteristically deadpan in its depiction of
one man behaving badly. The dialogue is vintage Brooks, as when he tells a
colleague (Bruno Kirby) that he and Mary always enjoyed great sex but
could never really talk. "Do you need to talk?" his friend asks,
which would be the topper in anyone else's comedy. But Brooks dismisses
this cheap joke with, "We're men. Can we have a bond?"
A hilarious subplot concerns Robert's work on a cheesy science fiction
film that stars George Kennedy. James L. Brooks (no relation), who would
direct Brooks to an Oscar nomination in Broadcast News, is
hysterical as the deluded director who resists Robert's best, painstaking
efforts to improve the film.
For some, Modern Romance is a comedy, for others, a horror film
(Robert is as relentless as Michael Myers and as much a nightmare as
Freddy). See it and squirm with someone you love.