Defending Your Life [1991]

Director: Albert Brooks
Stars: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, Rip Torn, Roger Behr, Beth Black
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Runtime: 112 minutes

Albert Brooks proves there's laughs after death with this almost heavenly comedy--almost heaven as in Judgment City, where recently perished Daniel Miller (Brooks) learns whether he is worthy of advancing to a higher plane of existence or will be sent back to earth for another incarnation. His fate will be determined in a very special trial, during which scenes from his life are replayed on a giant screen. "Isn't it realistic?" a judge asks. "It makes some people nauseous." While the steely prosecutor (Lee Grant) will try to prove that Daniel failed in life to face his fears and insecurities, his glad-handing, reassuring defender (Rip Torn) will argue on behalf of this hapless "little brain" (a Judgment City term for residents of earth). As Woody Allen did for the future in Sleeper, so does Brooks create an original vision of the afterlife. In Judgment City, white-robed residents can eat as much as they want without guilt or fear of gaining weight. They can also visit the Past Lives Pavilion, where they are greeted by a hologram of--who else--Shirley MacLaine. Daniel finds himself touched by an angel. Meryl Streep gives an enchanting performance as Julia, whose exemplary life is in stark contrast to his. During her trial, the court watches in rapture as she saves not only children, but a cat from a burning building. Daniel and Julia are a match made in Judgment City, but first Daniel must summon up the courage to express his true feelings for her, or she will surely advance without him. Defending Your Life is Brooks's most ambitious film and, with Mother, his most accessible. --Donald Liebenson

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