Daniel gives a thank you speech to his colleagues that would be welcome at any stand-up club. Then he goes to pick up his pretty new car, a gift to himself on his birthday. Driving around with the top down, he’s singing his heart out to Barbra Streisand on the radio when – blammo – a truck hits him and he’s dead.
Just like that.
He winds up in Judgment City, a resort-like version of afterlife limbo where the recently deceased must defend their lives in a courtroom setting – they’ll either move on to whatever’s bigger and better, or they’ll be sent back to Earth to live another life and try to be more worthy.
Daniel (Albert Brooks) feels he’s lived a good life, been a good person. But as his ‘trial’ unfolds he’s surprised to learn what we’re actually judged upon – not our good deeds or charitable contributions, but on the risks we took (whether they panned out or not), and the fearlessness with which we’ve lived our lives.
Uh oh. Suddenly Daniel’s not so confident. And the prosecutor has hundreds of instances in his life queued up to illustrate the many times he had bad judgement. To make things simultaneously better and worse, he meets the beautiful Julia (Meryl Streep), whose life seems to have been meritorious in every way imaginable. It seems certain that she will move on to the better place while he is likely to be sent back, their newfound love cut short.
I can’t believe I never saw this movie before – these are two of my top five people. Albert Brooks wrote and directed it too, so you better believe it’s funny. But it’s also surprisingly warm and thoughtful. Brooks makes the best of his platform, and treats it like his vehicle. Streep therefore appears in it much less that you might expect, but she makes a lot of her scenes, and it’s a great reminder of he excellent comedic timing. Plus she just has this glow about her – a glow that totally justifies a man falling with her during the 5 most important days of his (after)life.
Defending Your Life is wise and witty and a whole lot of fun. Worth digging into the back catalogue for.