When the nice folks at the Trumbull Library asked me if I would host a “road movie” in conjunction with their “One Book-One Town” celebration of Reif Larsen’s “The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet” it didn’t take me long to zero in on the 1985 Albert Brooks film, “Lost in America.”
Larsen’s book includes a long section in which his teenage title character sets off from the Midwest to Washington, D.C. after he gets an unlikely job offer from the Smithsonian Institution.
Larsen’s book takes a rather whimsical view of life in modern America, so I didn’t want to bring everybody down with one of those grim, apocalyptic road pictures like “Easy Rider” or “My Own Private Idaho” or “Thelma & Louise.”
The sophisticated Los Angeles couple in the Brooks film give up their jobs to go in search of an America they’ve only read about in books or seen in movies — a bucolic place where people are nicer and where money will buy a lot more.
Albert Brooks pulled off a Woody Allen-style trifecta in his classic — writing it, directing it and co-starring with the brilliant comedienne Julie Hagerty (who gave him the same sort of comic spark that Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow have supplied in their Woody Allen pictures).
Of course, being consumerist young Americans of the 1980s the couple wants to be comfortable on their quest; the house-on-wheels is equipped with amazing gizmos like a microwave that can make perfect grilled cheese sandwiches.
The first stop out of L.A. is Las Vegas where the husband finds to his horror that his wife has been carrying an untapped addiction.
While he sleeps, she gambles away all of their cash.
This is when we get Brooks’ justly famous “nest egg principle” speech.
“Please do me a favor,” the man yells at his wife when she refers to their lost nest egg. “Don’t use the word. You may not use that word — it’s off-limits to you. Only those in this house who understand nest egg may use it. And don’t use any part of it either. Don’t use ‘nest,’ don’t use ‘egg.’ If you’re out in the forest you can point. The bird lives in a round stick. And you have things over easy with toast.”
Suddenly, the duo is dumped into lower middle class, middle America, where he ends up a crossing guard and she goes to work at a fast-food restaurant where her boss is half her age.
“Lost in America” is one of the funniest and most ironic explorations of that intangible American quest to hit the road.
(The free screening will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Trumbull Library, 33 Quality St.)