Defending Your Life - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Defending Your Life Reviews

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½ November 7, 2014
It's not often you come across a movie that takes a completely unique look at life after death. This movie, though, shows the world of Judgement City as a very Earth-like place where people reside while their life is reviewed and they either "move on" or go back to Earth to try again. It's one of those movies with a rather high concept, but presented in a very simple way. It's nice that they focus in on fear as the one element that holds humanity back from reaching their goals, and Albert Brooks is the perfect actor to portray the type of guy who would have a lot of trouble passing a fear trial. They do a superb job of defining this world, and the rules by which it is governed. The food is one of the biggest things they focus on, and it makes sense that most people would be particularly delighted to reach a place where you can eat as much as you want and every bite is the most amazing you've ever tasted. The constant riding around in tourist trams is also fun and makes it clear that Judgement City is merely a way-station not a destination.

As I mentioned, Albert Brooks is perfect for the role, obviously because he wrote it for himself. I liked the few moments he wrote in that allowed him to make wisecracks, because that added a few good laughs. I wish there was more of this, though. I kept waiting for a scene of Albert really ranting about the injustice of the trial, or something. Meryl Streep needs no mention, she is lovely and she does a great job of portraying someone who has basically conquered the fear of life and is just enjoying her afterlife. Some of the most impressive work was put in by Rip Torn because he felt human, but at the same time kind of alien. I loved that character and never understood his disappearance in one scene (other than as an opportunity for added anxiety and jokes from Albert Brooks.) By the end I thought Defending Your Life was a very sweet movie, that gave me enough laughs and plenty of smiles. While the whole concept is a little silly to me, I like what it's trying to say about the ways that people waste their lives. It's one I can recommend for most people if you've never seen it, and if you have seen it feel free to revisit because it still holds up.
October 17, 2014
Probably my favorite movie of all times! Not only a clever look at life after death but really funny with a lot of heart and great meaning! Thanks Albert..!
October 3, 2014
Predictable but so, so lovely. Brilliant concept and world.
August 17, 2014
All you can eat and not gain a pound....wouldn't that be great.
½ August 14, 2014
There are some weak moments, but those are out-weighed by Meryl Streep's delightful performance and the sweet but clever story by Brooks.
August 8, 2014
This is my favorite comedy of all time, because it is not only hilarious, but also extremely insightful into the nature of humanity. Albert Brooks is especially brilliant in his role, and Meryl Streep is not too bad, either! I love Rip Torn's role as his 'lawyer', he is better in this than he is in Men In Black.
I have watched this movie a dozen times, which is something I rarely do, and I still laugh out loud during parts of it. HIGHLY recommended!
August 7, 2014
August 1, 2014
Goes in my top ten favorite comedies. It's a treasure!
½ July 4, 2014
Theologically probably not going to make any in-roads or discoveries, but this afterlife sketching from writer/director/sat Albert Brooks is fitfully funny and humane, with of all people Meryl Streep nearly buffaloed as a sweet but uncomplicated love interest(!). Rip Torn and Buck Henry(in more of a cameo)round out the cast.
½ May 27, 2014
Touching yet amusing, Brooks delivers a fresh spin on the afterlife. Meshing in wit and nifty sight gags with a genuine sense of heart and even a message about living life to the full and taking risks, is very welcome. Also helps that our two leads are pitch perfect and have great fun together, which in turn, endears them.
March 24, 2014
Expected a little bit more, but I think a lot of that is just built-up expectations. Really enjoyed it though.
March 15, 2014
This is a 'snoozer.'
Technically it's not a 'sleeper hit' because it made $16M at the box office. Which, in 1991, is a lot of money, right?
Well, it's money, we can agree on that.
Anyway. Now twenty-three years post-theatrical release, nobody remembers its existence. It's a shame, really. That's why I'm coining the phrase, 'snoozer,' a good movie everyone seems to forget about.
Because wow, this movie holds up.
I think it's easier to watch Defending Your Life when you know the year it's from. Even then though, the production design is spectacular. It's easy to discern they're shooting on a set sometimes, but it's strangely enchanting.
First of all, this movie's written, directed by and starring Albert Brooks as Daniel Miller. That man's talent is underutilized. He's a great actor, and Defending Your Life is an all-star picture that fires on all cylinders.
From recent memory, he's great as Paul Rudd's father in This is 40, and he's just spectacular in Drive. In DYF he's playing a much less antagonistic role.
An obvious and (what some may consider) dull comparison to make is with Kafka's The Trial. Perhaps there was some inspiration there.
The script is reminiscent of a Woody Allen movie; each line's meticulously written so there's humor in every beat. Everything occurs for more than one reason, and it's all very thought provoking.
Judgment City is one of the most intelligent and detailed depictions of the afterlife you'll ever see.
The 'attorneys' (although they prefer not to be thought of that way) are the best part of this film. Lee Grant as Lena Foster (the prosecutor) and Rip Torn as Bob Diamond (Miller's defense attorney) are stupendous. They establish a captivating back-and-forth from the get-go.
Grant's role in DYF comes in toward the tail end of a long acting career. It's her job to be the bad guy in purgatory, and she accomplishes this in spades, but Lena's not without subtlety or nuance.
To use his own quote, Torn's character is, "just dynamite." He's the most optimistic, lovable person and I enjoy seeing the loyal friend character; someone the protagonist (and the audience) can always count on.
Meryl Streep's excellent also; her character exemplifies 'affability.' It's the quality you recognize in all genuinely good people. She's quick to laugh and can tell when someone expects her to, and she's easy going; unfettered by worry.
Seriously, it's quietly a masterful performance. This is the best role I've seen Meryl in.
Well friends, if you haven't seen Defending Your Life, it's a five star comedy with compelling characters, an intelligent narrative and some very touching sequences. Despite the predictable ending, it brought a tear to this humble reviewer's eye.
But if you're sensitive to spoilers stop reading now.
To comment on the aforementioned character of Lena Foster, it's worthy of note because she's intense and accusatory but you can see her feelings deep down. She wants Miller to move on from Earthly life, but she can't force it on him. Ultimately, she wishes him the best.
In consideration of the inherent difficulty in world building, Brooks' exploration of the material is vast and thorough. He put a lot of work into writing this screenplay, and it shines through in certain moments in an indirect manner.
For example, Miller asks where Diamond (Rip Torn) was the day before.
"I'd tell you but you wouldn't understand," Diamond says.
"Don't treat me like a moron, try me," Miller says.
"I was trapped near the inner circle of fault."
"I don't understand."
"I told you..."
There are four main trial sequences, and instead of doing the exact same thing (having Diamond vehemently defend the merits of Miller's choices) the stand-in utilizes a different defensive method by having Miller defend himself. This offers the viewer a greater variation in scenes.
And if the only option for pay-off is explaining it as nonsensical (literally), then so be it.
Another good example is during the final trial sequence.
I think we all know what's coming when Foster shows the clip of the night before, a scene from the lobby of Julia's hotel. Perhaps Brooks recognized the potential for cheesiness ahead of time, and wrote the following exchange as a precautionary measure. Foster brings up the clip and Rip Torn objects.
"I was told we're not doing that anymore," Diamond says.
"No one told you that," a judge responds.
It's hilarious, nonsensical and completely out of left field, but it works! It's a great joke, and totally justifies the placement of the scene.
Which transitions into my sole criticism of the film. It's a bit predictable. But that's fine, given the unbroken flow of well-rounded moments provided along the way.
It's illustrative of a larger truth. A well-thought out story can be efficient. The ending doesn't have to be spectacular for us to buy in. It can be satisfactory if the ride was even more so to get there.
Defending Your Life reminds us that great screenplays can often be great enough.
There's still one thing that baffles me:
Why isn't it out on Blu-Ray?
½ February 16, 2014
There are some pretty great scenes--subtle yet potent.
December 18, 2013
ya gotta see this movie. one of my all time favorites
December 1, 2013
A delightful little comedy with a message good for the spirit.
½ September 12, 2013
A brilliant, touching, funny view of the afterlife. Really a wonderful film.
August 14, 2013
funny and deep when you don't really expect it, an interesting take on how any situation can be viewed in more than one light. still not sure if it's all about fear, though...
June 5, 2013
The best romantic comedy I've ever seen
½ June 3, 2013
A really enjoyable movie. Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep are perfect together. Rip Torn is fantastic as Brooks' defender. Really, if I had to choose one flaw, I'd say the score was a little overbearing at times. The better a movie is, the more nitpicky the complaint. It's just a really solid movie that just makes you feel good inside.
March 30, 2013
Brilliant. Brooks at his best as actor, writer & director.
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