Defending Your Life (1991)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Defending Your Life Videos & Photos

Movie Info

Albert Brooks wrote, directed, and stars in this philosophical comedy about a man having a hard time making a case for himself in the afterlife. When advertising executive Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks) finds himself in a fatal car crash minutes after taking delivery on a new BMW, he's whisked away to Judgment City, where the recently dead are put on a sort of trial to decide their fate. If in your time on Earth you were able to face your fears and learn from your mistakes, you get to move on to … More

Rating: PG (adult situations/language)
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Albert Brooks
In Theaters:
On DVD: Apr 3, 2001
Warner Home Video


as Daniel Miller

as Bob Diamond

as Lena Foster

as Dick Stanley

as Agency Head

as Jeep Owner

as Car Salesman

as Tram Guide

as Soap Opera Woman

as Soap Opera Man

as Game Show Moderator

as Game Show Contestant

as Game Show Contestant

as Elderly Woman on Tra...

as Comedian

as Daniel's Judge

as Daniel's Judge

as Daniel as a Boy

as Woman on bus

as Child in Schoolyard

as Daniel as an Infant

as Daniel's Father

as Daniel's Mother

as Mr. Wadworth

as Sushi Hostess

as Head Sushi Chef

as Sushi Chef

as Sushi Chef

as Sushi Chef

as Talk Show Host

as Talk Show Guest

as Casio Tipster

as Daniel's Date

as Daniel's Wife

as Used Car Salesman

as Used Car Salesman

as Julia's Prosecutor

as Julia's Judge

as Julia's Judge

as Man in Past Lives Pa...

as Woman in Past Lives ...

as Victorian Girl

as Sumo Wrestler

as Native

as Man in Past Lives Pa...

as Majestic Doorman

as Stage Manager

as Banquet Manage

as Fire Marshal

as Julia's Daughter

as Julia's Son

as Maitre d'

as Eduardo

as Ticket Counter Agent

as Tram Port Attendant

as Tram Port Attendant

as Tram Port Attendant

as Tram Driver

as Woman at Past Lives ...
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for Defending Your Life

All Critics (32) | Top Critics (7)

This is definitely Brooks's day in court, and he makes comic heaven of it.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Washington Post
Top Critic

The movie is funny in a warm, fuzzy way, and it has a splendidly satisfactory ending.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Full Review… | September 7, 2011
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

It could have just as easily been set in Dr. Freud's office, with his patient spilling his guts out on the couch.

Full Review… | March 16, 2015
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Though visually impressive, the film shows problems with tonality, which veers from outright comedy to earnest therapy session--the "seize the day" lesson is not strong enough for a full-length picture.

Full Review… | June 12, 2006

An underrated gem that explores the long-term consequences of our everyday actions.

August 18, 2005

Audience Reviews for Defending Your Life


A sweet fantasy into a weigh-station where the departed make cases for whether they lived fearless lives, and after judgment, they move onto greener, more intelligent pastures or get reincarnated back to Earth. I'm not a fan of Meryl Streep, but she is angel bright as the fearless Julia.

There seems to be a hidden layer of stupidity in those who move on - like that their diet consists of dirt and worms, or the substitute lawyer who uses 43% of his brain but doesn't say a word in court to defend Daniel - but they're just sight gags that don't come to fruition.

Alice Shen

Super Reviewer


An imaginative, hilarious look at an ad-man (Albert Brooks) killed in a car accident and sent to a purgatory-type afterlife, where he awaits judgment concerning if he lived a good life or not in order to see if he will be granted access into Heaven. If he isn't, he'll be sent back to Earth to live another life again. Albert Brooks really nails this from every angle - writing, directing, and acting, this is a genius film. It doesn't quite keep up the same momentum is has during its last half hour or so, but this is a mostly great comedy which features a great premise, and one that is executed soundly in almost every conceivable aspect. The ending is a strange one but fitting in a weird way. It's also very re-watchable thanks to its ability to get huge laughs, while at the same time possessing the skill to know when to become serious when time calls for it.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer


Daniel Miller: Why do you drive this?
Jeep Owner: What?
Daniel Miller: I'm curious. I see people driving these things. What do you know that I don't? Are floods coming? Hoover Dam broke? What's going on?
Jeep Owner: I like this car.
Daniel Miller: It's not a car, it's a battering ram. This is what Patton drove: "Hey you, soldier! Follow us!"
Jeep Owner: Make fun, but in an 8.5 earthquake, you'll beg for a Jeep.
Daniel Miller: In an 8.5 earthquake, I'll beg for a coffin.

A very funny and original movie, with Albert Brooks at his best. The story itself is a neat concept, what happens when you die? No overdoing it, just a nice idea where people are sent to a place where things get determined for you in an orderly fashion. The idea is to repeat life until you sort of learn a deeper meaning and can move on.

Brooks plays Daniel, a man who is killed at the beginning of the movie only to arrive in this afterlife setting. He is informed by his lawyer-type person, played by Rip Torn, that he will be judged based on clips from nine days of his life, and it will be determined whether he will be incarnated back on earth or move on.

While not on trial, Daniel gets to move around this afterlife town known as Judgment City. During this time he meets a woman Julie, played by Meryl Streep. Many jokes in the movie come from how much better Streep's life was and how much better she is treated in Judgment City because of it.

Daniel Miller: What is this?
Julia: It's my hotel.
Daniel Miller: This is your hotel?
Julia: Yeah. Where are you staying?
Daniel Miller: Obviously at the place for people that weren't very generous and didn't adopt anybody. I'm at the Continental. Come over one day; we'll paint it.

The movie is very funny overall due to Brooks style of humor. The way he writes his comedy works so well and is helped even more so when Brooks gets himself into various stages of his conversations, observations, or arguments. Also very funny are the actual judgment scenes going between scenes from Daniel's life and the discussion afterward.

Along with watching this movie for its story and humor, there are also various elements that hint at some deeper themes involving the thoughts on death and the assessment of life. The inclusion of a love interest and how that factors into the story is also effective.

I've watched this movie many times and love it. Its a good premise, featuring solid work from Brooks as well as the supporting cast. The ideas introduced here are good setups for the movie's concept without going to deep. Its very entertaining and well done.

Bob Diamond: Did we ever stop to think that this young boy had a bond with his father? I don't think it had anything to do with the friend. I just think Daniel couldn't lie to his dad. That's all.
Lena Foster: You're nodding, Mr. Miller. Does that mean you agree with Mr. Diamond?
Daniel Miller: Oh, yes. I had a bond with my father. I pretty much never lied to him.
Lena Foster: You never lied to your father? Would you like me to show you at least 500 examples?
Daniel Miller: I said "pretty much" never lied. I didn't say I never, ever lied. You have to lie sometimes... in an emergency. But, ah, it doesn't mean the bond is affected. If you've got the bond the bond is always there, and if you have to lie occasionally you're not going to interfere with the bond. You know, the bond can wait for a little lie and... in the end it's there for you... You know, sometimes in the middle of a lie I found that the bond would kick in... maybe squeeze a little truth out.
Bob Diamond: Psst, wrap it up.
Daniel Miller: I'm through.

Aaron Neuwirth

Super Reviewer

Defending Your Life Quotes

– Submitted by Mark O (13 months ago)
– Submitted by Chuck C (3 years ago)
– Submitted by Chuck C (3 years ago)

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