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Defending Your Life (1991)
Rated PG

Starring: Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep, and Rip Torn

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Daniel Miller (Albert Brooks) is a successful businessman. He's happily married, just bought a new BMW and he enjoys listening to his new CD player. He's also just died in a car crash.

Brooks, who also directed and wrote the script, takes a look at what happens to us when we die in Defending Your Life. According to Brooks, you end up in Judgement City, where one's life is reviewed and judged in a trial-like atmosphere. If it meets the requirements, the deceased gets to move on. If it fails, the sentence is to return to Earth to try again in a new life.

Daniel meets his attorney, Bob Diamond (Rip Torn), who assures him that he is likely to move forward. However, his prosecutor, Lena Foster (Lee Grant), is nicknamed 'the dragon lady', so Daniel feels he's got a reason to be worried. Daniel's life is examined on a large screen, which allows us to take a look at what got Daniel where he is. It becomes apparent that Daniel's life has been full of fear, the one thing that those in Judgement City check for failure to move forward on the spiritual time line.

Shortly after he gets into Judgement City, which looks like a resort town, he meets Julia (Meryl Streep). Julia is the epitome of "perfect." In her flashbacks, she's full of confidence and poise; the total opposite of Daniel. Of course, they fall in love. But there's just one drawback, the stay in Judgement City only lasts three days. How will they make it work?

Brooks' script is full of wit and comments on life in general. He has a knack for dialogue and humor that many films about relationships lack. Since this movie has a fantasy element, it allows Brooks to paint with a larger palette than his previous films (Modern Romance and Lost in America) had allowed. He can make broad comments on the way things appear to him. In most cases, it's damn funny.

The scenes with Streep and Brooks are charming and sweet. Rip Torn is hilarious as Bob Diamond. Lee Grant's role is limited; relegating her to acting bitchy and sparring with Torn in mostly trite dialogue.

Defending Your Life isn't perfect, but if you're willing to let Brooks run with his view of the afterlife, it's well worth renting.

Trivia: Actress Shirley Maclaine, known for her views on the afterlife, appears in a cameo. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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