In 1975, comedian Albert Brooks was offered a gig as permanent host of TV's new late night sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live. Instead, Brooks opted to write and direct short films for the fledgling show. Though his tenure lasted only one season, Brooks' films, including the classic and prescient Show Us Your Guns, were mini-masterpieces of the mockumentary. For his debut as a feature filmmaker a few years later, Brooks spun off one of his SNL shorts into this spoof of the PBS mini-series An American Family (1973). The film starred Brooks as an obnoxious, Hollywood version of himself, attempting to ape the success of An American Family with his own documentary about "real" family life. Real Life met with critical acclaim and established Brooks as a cult favorite among aficionados of intellectual comedy. Others experimented with mockumentaries at the same time (most notably Eric Idle of Monty Python with his Beatles parody The Rutles (1978)), but it could be argued that his SNL films made Brooks one of the first and best practitioners of the form. The films certainly fit seamlessly into Brooks' overall body of work: his earlier comedy albums and infamous TV talk show appearances displayed a similar proclivity for deconstructing accepted standards and blurring the lines between entertainment and reality. One of Brooks' best friends, Rob Reiner, later achieved great success with his own debut as a director, This Is Spinal Tap (1984), often cited as the greatest example of the mockumentary form -- and a film that bore more than a slight resemblance to both Real Life and The Rutles, a similarity perhaps due at least in part to actor and comic Harry Shearer, who co-wrote and co-stars in both Real Life and This Is Spinal Tap.
by Karl Williams review