David Howard is upset. His wife, Linda, thinks the two of them are too responsible, too controlled, too…well, stodgy. It’s not fair – he doesn’t like it any better than she, but how else is he supposed to behave? He’s a young, fast-rising ad executive, not a flower child, and as personnel director for an upscale department store, Linda’s hardly a free spirit, either.
Besides, David’s certain to be named senior vice president. He and Linda are so sure of that, they’ve bought a new house and David’s pricing Mercedes-Benzes. Life’s not passing them by. Really. And things will look better once David gets the promotion – and that hefty new salary – he’s been working toward for so long.
So why, on the very day he’s supposed to be climbing the next rung of the corporate ladder, does David burst into Linda’s office demanding that she quit? He wants her to join him in his sudden state of unemployment. It seems that “his” vice presidential stripes were pinned on someone else’s sleeve, and David blew up, insulted his boss, got himself fired, and generally acted “irresponsibly.”
Instead of being shattered, David feels, for the first time in years, truly alive and excited. For Linda, the years ahead suddenly lose their dreaded predictability; it’s time for her to grow again.
Reveling in their newfound sense of freedom, the Howards sell their house, buy a motor home, and set out to do what they had only dreamed of doing when they were younger and poorer: take chances, find themselves, discover what life is all about. Thus begins a comic odyssey as the two answer the call of the open road, only to become “Lost in America.”
Albert Brooks’ style of comedy is based on the realities of everyday life. On this film, Brooks and his crew spent only three of the film’s 45-day schedule on a sound stage. The rest of the time, they were on location all across the United States.
To provide a vivid, highly American setting for David and Linda’s coast-to-coast odyssey, the filmmakers worked in actual, functioning, facilities, eschewing extras and props in favor of real people and things that were on the scene.
While the filmmakers could have used sound stages to substitute actual locales, producer Marty Katz points out that this compromise “would have cheated the audience of a rich movie experience and wouldn’t have fully expressed the theme of the film.”
The story ranges from the work-a-day world of Los Angeles to the razzle-dazzle of Las Vegas to the high energy of New York City; from the stunning beauty of Hoover Dam to the quaint life of roadside trailer camps.
In Las Vegas, the picture company worked and lodged at the Desert Inn Hotel, filming in the casino, lobby, and coffee shop. In the casino, usually seen in films as a distant backdrop, special arrangements were made to enable filming at the gaming tables amid customers and employees.
Armed with the latest lighting advancements of the time and high-speed film, director of photography Eric Saarinen and his crew avoided using the powerful movie lights that would have detracted from the authentic atmosphere of an operational casino.
In striking contrast to Vegas’ neon shimmer was the majesty of the Hoover Dam, where the “Lost in America” company traveled to shoot on both the Arizona and Nevada sides of this landmark.
In New York, David and Linda’s motor home was filmed heading south on Fifth Avenue and pulling to the curb at 57th Street, where David pursues an astonished advertising executive into his office building.
Departing from their New York location, the filmmakers recorded the Howards’ journey from an Arizona trailer camp to wintery Gotham “in reverse” (or opposite direction from their actual travel), necessitating numerous tricky turnarounds.
The trip, depicted in a montage of a few minutes’ screen time, required ten days of grueling roadwork to film. To capture the trek from various points of view, cameras were placed in the motor home’s passenger seat, mounted in a camera car attached to the bizarre convoy, and set up at roadside.
The challenging journey features the deserts of Arizona, the ultra-modern Houston skyline, the Native American atmosphere of El Paso, the Mexican ambiance of Las Cruces, N.M., New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, Atlanta’s Peachtree Plaza, Pennsylvania countryside, and Washington, D.C.’s Capitol.
For the filmmakers, as well as for David and Linda, the journey proved to be an exercise in rediscovering America.
“I like to make comedy you can take seriously,” says Albert Brooks, the comedian who went beyond stand-up comedy to become a filmmaker.
Now Brooks has created his third film, Lost in America, a Geffen Company Production for distribution by Warner Bros.
In this contemporary romantic comedy, Brooks has cast himself and Julie Hagerty as a successful and responsible married couple who suddenly decide “to give up the urban rat race and drop out of society.”
Brooks portrays David Howard, a successful advertising executive “who is good at his job and works very hard within the system to get what he deserves. When he doesn’t, he goes a little crazy.”
Soon he and his resilient wife, Linda (Ms. Hagerty), are on the road and “Lost in America.”
Brooks describes the ensuing comedy as “realistic and honest” and the romantic relationship as a “modern love story in which marriage is depicted as an evolving process.
“The comedy – and the romance – are derived from how David and Linda deal with these unexpected twists in the road. Few people get so much calamity thrown at them in such a short time. The Howards are virtually yanked by the neck into the most bizarre two weeks of their lives.”
Dropping out, Brooks admits, is something he himself ponders. “In or out of the system,” he says, “people harbor the delusion that a new place, a new job, will make everything better, that the solution to your life is just around the corner.
“Sometimes I think of opening a restaurant in Oregon, like a teacher of mine from Carnegie Tech did. But mostly I think about fleeing to South America with all the money from this production.”
From the Lost in America press kit, Geffen Film Company, 1985