Lost in America

Synopsis (Page 1)

A couple of caveats to begin with. First, this synopsis is most definitely a "spoiler." If you haven't seen the movie before, you should probably view it at least once and then use this synopsis as a reference guide.

Secondly, whether intentionally or not, Lost in America's story divides fairly neatly into three parts. Therefore, we will deal with one part at a time and then ask you to proceed to the next page to read the rest. Enjoy!

Act I: Just Like Easy Rider

The movie's first few minutes are practically a film course in understated exposition. The movie begins with a slow tracking shot through the home of David Howard (Albert Brooks) and his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty). Moving boxes and rooms in disarray indicate a couple getting ready to move. A radio in the background indicates that the time is 2 a.m.

The camera finally stops at the bed of David and Linda. David lies awake, anxious and posing pointless questions to his sleepy wife. We find that:

* the couple is preparing to move into a $450,000 house;

* David is anxiously awaiting a morning meeting where, after serving at an advertising agency for eight years, he expects to be named the company's senior vice-president;

* Linda is a personnel director at a department store;

* Linda is unhappy with David's obsession with details, and she feels that "we're a bit too controlled."

This develops into an argument wherein David figures that since they're control freaks, he'll sleep in the garage and guard their car. Finally they apologize to each other. Linda rolls over to return to sleep, but David begins to pose yet another question.

The next morning, David is in front of the bathroom mirror, rehearsing a "spontaneous" speech with the upscale neighbors he expects to have soon. ("Come over and we'll barbecue.") Linda is ready to leave and asks David to come with her to pick out tile for the new house, but he declines. This threatens to segue into another argument, but they kiss, and she anxiously leaves alone.

Leisurely shots follow which show David and Linda going to their respective offices. (Note Arthur B. Rubinstein's theme for the ride to David's office. Rubinstein's music for this movie is underappreciated and nicely done, and the same theme serves different functions and plays at different tempos later in the movie--a rushed rhythm for David's jog to Linda's office, jazzy for the Las Vegas scene, and sleepy in the Safford scene.)

David tells his secretary that he wants to be alone to collect his thoughts, only to follow with a request to be phone-connected to the car dealer where he plans to purchase a Mercedes-Benz.

Linda goes to her office and confides to Patty, a co-worker, that she dreads her future. "I don't like anything anymore...Nothing's changing," says Linda. This is the movie's first hint that David's upscale dreams are taking a toll on his wife--a small schism that will have huge repercussions later in the movie.

David talks to Hans, the Mercedes dealer, and finds that his planned $44,000 purchase involves a car that doesn't have "genuine" leather. ("It's what they call Mercedes leather," Hans tells him.) David is then called to his meeting.

David says hello to his boss Paul (Michael Greene). Paul introduces David to Brad Tooley (Tom Tarpey), a new account rep for the agency. Brad compliments David's ad work, and Paul tells David, to his extreme delight, that the agency has landed Ford Motor as an account.

David immediately volunteers his complete devotion to the ad agency as senior VP, but Paul throws him a huge curve. A two-year employee named Phil Shebano has been named SVP; David is to move to New York within two weeks and work with Brad on the Ford account.

Albert Brooks is always more acclaimed as just a comedian than anything else, but it is in this scene that his writing, directing, and acting skills come to the fore. Brooks shows us David's dream disintegrating before his very eyes, and he openly vents his building frustration at not being given the position he feels he deserves. (Michael Greene as David's boss is great, too--watch his slowly mounting frustration at David's hostile reaction to his transfer.)

Eventually, David delivers a whopper of a kiss-off speech to Paul--the kind of speech most blue-collar workers would be thrilled to deliver to their bosses in order to get the kind of job David is now burying. As a result, David is fired, and he leaves the office in a fully-developed snit: "I've seen the future! It's a bald-headed man from New York!"

David rushes to Linda's office and tells her to quit her job, since he just quit his. (Well, he maintains, he was fired, but the principle is the same.) Linda has a mini-breakdown as David speaks of "the nowhere road" on which their lives have been. "You've been on it, don't you recognize it?" "No," Linda says, even though she was decrying that very road to her friend a couple of scenes ago. When Linda nixes David's offer to make love to her in her office, he says he's making some plans and will discuss them further that night.

That evening, David and Linda look through ads showing seaside homes and the like. David methodically explains his budgeting plans. "We got a ride on the inflation train that you would not believe," he tells Linda. They can liquidate everything, including their planned house purchase, and retain $190,000. From that, they can spend $45,000 for a top-quality mobile home and use the remaining savings to cruise the country for the rest of their lives. "Linda," David implores her, "this is just like Easy Rider...only now it's our turn!" Julie Hagerty's acting in this scene is quite touching, as Linda begins to realize that she and David can really pursue their dream. And so, temporarily ignoring the fact that the motor home for their journey will cost about one-tenth of Easy Rider's entire budget, Linda tearfully embraces David's plan.

David and Linda's friends give them a going-away party. (In a subtle bit of subtext, the party music is Donna Summer's disco number "Love Is In Control," with Donna singing "I've got my finger on the trigger"--a portent of things to come, perhaps.) At the party, David re-proposes to Linda and states that their first destination will be Las Vegas, where they can find a chapel to re-marry. "Las Vegas, here we come!" states David, the 1980's inheritor of Easy Rider's road scheme.

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