Defending Your Life (1991) - Rotten Tomatoes

Defending Your Life (1991)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Defending Your Life Trailers & 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 a life in a better world. However, if you didn't, you have to go back to Earth and try again. As he spends the next several days watching various episodes from his life, Daniel gets the impression he doesn't stand much of a chance of moving on -- and his representative, Bob Diamond (Rip Torn), seems to have little confidence in his case. In the meantime, he frequents Judgment City's many restaurants (where the food is delicious and you can eat all you want without gaining an ounce), pays a visit to the Past Life Pavilion, and meets Julia (Meryl Streep), who seems so kind, sweet, and noble that her advancement is practically assured. Daniel and Julia fall in love, but what's going to happen if they don't end up in the same place? Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep make a witty and engaging romantic team in Defending Your Life, and Shirley MacLaine appears in a highly appropriate cameo. ~ Mark Deming, Rovimore
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


Albert Brooks
as Daniel Miller
Rip Torn
as Bob Diamond
Lee Grant
as Lena Foster
Buck Henry
as Dick Stanley
Michael Durrell
as Agency Head
James Eckhouse
as Jeep Owner
Gary Beach
as Car Salesman
Julie Cobb
as Tram Guide
Beth Black
as Soap Opera Woman
Clayton Norcross
as Soap Opera Man
James MacKrell
as Game Show Moderator
Wil Albert
as Game Show Contestant
Sage Allen
as Game Show Contestant
Maxine Elliott
as Elderly Woman on Tra...
Roger Behr
as Comedian
George D. Wallace
as Daniel's Judge
Lillian Lehman
as Daniel's Judge
Raffi Di Blasio
as Daniel as a Boy
Eric Ehasz
as Child in Schoolyard
Matthew Scharch
as Daniel as an Infant
S. Scott Bullock
as Daniel's Father
Carol Bivins
as Daniel's Mother
Gary Ballard
as Mr. Wadworth
Mary Mukogawa
as Sushi Hostess
Toshio Shikami
as Head Sushi Chef
Kagko Shikami
as Sushi Chef
Samee Park
as Sushi Chef
Tommy Inouye
as Sushi Chef
Bob Braun
as Talk Show Host
Jennifer Barlow
as Talk Show Guest
Joey Miyashima
as Casio Tipster
Nurit Koppel
as Daniel's Date
Susan Walters
as Daniel's Wife
Sidney Chankin
as Used Car Salesman
Greg Finley
as Used Car Salesman
Cliff Einstein
as Julia's Prosecutor
Rachel Bard
as Julia's Judge
Newell Alexander
as Julia's Judge
Hal Landon
as Man in Past Lives Pa...
Ida Lee
as Woman in Past Lives ...
Noley Thornton
as Victorian Girl
Glen Chin
as Sumo Wrestler
James Ekim
as Native
Ron Colby
as Majestic Doorman
James Paradise
as Stage Manager
Jerry Prell
as Banquet Manage
Arell Blanton
as Fire Marshal
Shana Ballard
as Julia's Daughter
Chris Macris
as Julia's Son
Joseph Darrell
as Maitre d'
James Manis
as Eduardo
Cathleen Chin
as Ticket Counter Agent
Lisa Sears
as Tram Port Attendant
Mark Dunlap
as Tram Port Attendant
Vernon Roguen
as Tram Port Attendant
Dennis Germain
as Tram Driver
Shirley MacLaine
as Woman at Past Lives ...
Maxine Hicks
as Woman on bus
Hal Landon Jr.
as Man in Past Lives Pa...
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Defending Your Life

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 (15 months ago)
– Submitted by Chuck C (3 years ago)
– Submitted by Chuck C (3 years ago)

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