Defending Your Life (1991)

defending your life poster 1991 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting : 9/10
Visuals: 8/10

Fun and different romantic comedy with a good cast

Very subtle humor if the viewer expects more laugh out loud moments

Movie Info

Movie Name: Defending Your Life

Studio: Geffen Pictures

Genre(s): Comedy/Romance/Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Release Date(s):  March 22, 1991 (US)/June 28, 1991 (UK)

MPAA Rating: PG

defending your life trial albert brooks

Is your life your past or your present?

Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks) has lived a rather unremarkable life.  When the advertising executive is killed in a head-on collision, he finds himself in Judgment City where the deceased go to determine their next step in life…or the afterlife.  Daniel is about to be judged, but when he meets a woman named Julia (Meryl Streep) who is just cruising through the judgment process, he realizes that even after death, love can be found…but a yea or nay could mean Daniel’s fate is sealed.

Written and directed by Albert Brooks, Defending Your Life is a romantic comedy fantasy.  The film was released to positive views.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #1071).

Defending Your Life is a film that changes as you age.  The idea of your life being judged on your actions gains more importance as you get older and Defending Your Life realizes this.  The film is a solid comedy but also a reflection on what is really important.

defending your life meryl streep albert brooks

Wait…you get to wear togas and eat everything you want? Sign me up for Judgment City!

While largely a comedy, the movie is also commentary on social issues.  Are you not living up to your full potential if you are governed by fear is the primary question and in general what makes a good life?  The humor and comedy bounces around these ideas by implanting them in almost every aspect of the script, and while the film comes out as a nice and tender romance, the movie feels deeper.

Albert Brooks is at the top of his game.  He is a good everyman and unlike a movie where a coward would be painted as a complete monster, Brooks’ Miller isn’t that bad of a guy…he’s just unexceptional like many people.  He is cast against Meryl Streep the consummate actor who gets a nice comedic role, but also gets to play off of her perfect image.  Rip Torn does a good job as Brooks’ starch defender while Lee Grant plays the prosecutor.  Buck Henry has a small but fun role as a stand-in attorney, and Shirley MacLaine wins the cameo appearance as the host of the Past Lives Pavilion since MacLaine herself is well known as a believer in past lives.

defending your life linguini meryl streep

Guess Meryl got the never-ending pasta bowl at Olive Garden

The movie has a lot of fun by not being extremely heavenly and angelic.  Brooks wanted a very neutral religion base, and Judgment City comes off as kind of a business park with the best restaurants and hotels (if you are invited to them).  It has enough of an afterlife look, but it would have been insincere if it had been angels and harps.

Defending Your Life is a fun movie that should be sought out.  It isn’t a roll on the ground comedy, but it is a thoughtful comedy that has fun while asking legitimate questions.  Likewise, the movie does work as a quirky romance through two mismatched-“heaven-crossed” lovers.  Brooks’ character is always tied up in knots even in the afterlife, and that indicates that who you are on Earth is who you will always be.  The movie begs the question…if you have the chance, is taking it always the right answer?

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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