On paper, Albert Brooks’s Modern Romance sounds like a trivial, run-of-the-mill romantic comedy following a film editor trying to fix his relationship with his former girlfriend. In execution though, Brooks understands that clichéd plotting won’t get him anywhere in his second directorial effort. Brooks’s Modern Romance is a dryly funny film about how complicated human relationships can’t function under the guidelines of a domineering other-half. Now newly issued on Blu-Ray for the first time thanks to Indicator, Modern Romance is an underseen delight that is hilarious, but it has to go without saying, Brooks also has some serious points to make about the behaviour of on-again, off-again boyfriends.
Brooks stars as Robert Cole, a self-absorbed and untrusting film editor who is trying to reconcile with his stressed and uncomplaining girlfriend all of the time, Mary (Kathryn Harrold). The repeating cycle goes like this: Cole grows suspicious of Mary’s business or personal plans, Robert confronts her about the situation, and they fight and bicker over their strained relationship. After that horrendous ordeal, they consequently split up. Cole is torn, however; he can’t make up his mind over whether Mary is his soulmate. So, like the unsure and disorganised man that he is, Cole attempts to win Mary back over, and once again, they are an item. And the endless cycle repeats, and repeats, and repeats to no end.
Modern Romance is a biting satire that is a lot of fun to watch. Brooks is holding a mirror against the people who are affected by love but whom can’t seem to handle it at all. By Cole’s actions in the film, the humour falls in line with Brooks’s perception of those who don’t think they are jealous or controlling to their partner. In reality, however, Brooks is showing the hypocrisy behind their façade. Cole behaves like a broken record player; Mary is endlessly on his mind, and Cole finds himself bereaving over his lover once more. Therefore, he and Mary try to set their faults aside for the millionth time. One scene sees Cole immediately go on a date with a co-worker, Ellen, after splitting with Mary the night before. The big day comes around – Cole picks up Ellen for an impromptu evening out. After at least a one minute drive around the block nicely framed against Michael Jackson’s She’s Out of My Life, Cole willingly dumps his co-worker back at her apartment and loudly proclaims, “I’m dating too soon, Ellen!”.
Cole is a self-centred jerk, no question asked. It’s understandable why many of the audience would hate him from the off-set. But there’s a serious point to Cole’s character. I mentioned earlier that Robert is a film editor. As you would expect, Cole is good at his job; he knows what material to ditch on the cutting room floor, and how to tighten a movie’s structure, much to the director’s dismay. For the average reader, Cole keeps a watchful eye over post-production of a cheaply made science-fiction film starring a self-played George Kennedy. Nonetheless, Cole cannot assemble his family relationships and friendships in the same way. Instead, he mimics the notion of writing down a number to call a friend back on, he also criticises Mary’s choice of dress for work, crudely commenting that her “nipples look like eyeballs” in her blue, summer attire. Brooks nicely juxtaposes between professional and insensitive behaviour; one moment Cole is open and fixes a continuity problem in the edit of the film, and in another, he is crude and ill-mannered towards those who are close to him, not only Mary.
Modern Romance isn’t without its flaws, though. Brooks can bridge funny scenes together with cheesy improvisation. When Cole is high on Quaaludes after his break-up with Mary, he attends to his vinyl collection and puts on a record. After five seconds of playing a single track, he declares that music can “heal the human soul!”. Cole can also state the obvious for no reason other than to fuel the idea that Brooks’s character is a skipping record player. So yes, Modern Romance could have done with another re-draft of the script to cancel out such frivolous moments. However, for the second film by a comedian/actor, Modern Romance is a solid effort. Brooks picks apart the idea of the gruff and manipulative relationship with a swagger that means belly laughs are never too far away. Simply put, Modern Romance is one of the funniest films in Indicator’s increasingly illustrious catalog.