Why I Love James L. Brooks
"And if things had gone differently for me tonight, then I probably wouldn't be saying any of this. I grant you everything. But give me this: He personifies everything that you've been fighting against. And I'm in love with you. How do you like that? I buried the lede."
James L. Brooks started his career as a news man, something which would inform some of his best work. He worked as a host on CBS and as a copywriter. He worked on documentaries by David L. Wolper. After being let go, he got a job through a friend on a TV show, My Mother the Car. Brooks has worked on so many shows that it would be silly of me to list them all but let me just cover the big ones. He co-created the great show Taxi, the Mary Tyler Moore Show and of course helped to develop The Simpsons into one of the greatest TV shows of all time. He also wrote and directed Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, As Good As It Gets and my personal favourite How Do You Know? Since I have not watched the whole of Taxi or the Mary Tyler Moore show, I will stick to talking about Brooks' films, which I adore.
Terms of Endearment won the Academy Award for Best Film and Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also won Best Actress for Shirley MacLaine and Best Supporting Actor for Jack Nicholson. It is a very funny, wise movie about family and love. It is also pretty damn sad and tragic. Brooks is someone who really knows how to write women. This is something that has permeated all of his work, from this movie to The Simpsons. Showrunner Al Jean told a story where Brooks passed a note around for what Lisa's substitute teacher should give to her to keep her heart up when he leaves. It said "You are Lisa Simpson." Al Jean said everyone who watched the episode commented that this was their favourite moment in the show and one of all time great moments in the history of the show.
Broadcast News stars Albert Brooks, who is among my very favourite film makers. Brooks had previously appeared in two of Albert's films, Real Life and Modern Romance, and in turn included in many episodes of The Simpsons along with a lead role in Broadcast News. Broadcast News is one of my favourite comedy films ever. It stars Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter and William Hurt. It is a movie that is, like Terms of Endearment, incredibly wise about relationships and love. There are some terrifically funny moments, including a wonderful scene where Albert tries to convince Holly Hunter's character of the potential evil of allowing William Hurt's character to pursue a soulless career as a news anchor. And where he expresses his deep love for her. It is one of the most touching, plain funniest things you will ever see.
As Good As It Gets was something of a comeback after the unfair treatment of Brooks' would be musical I'll Do Anything. While I'll Do Anything was still a charming film, musical scenes or not, it was not the success it deserved to be. With As Good As It Gets, Brooks would again team up with Jack Nicholson to bring a truly great character to life. Melvin Udall - just a great character name! - is an obsessive compulsive writer, who finds getting through the day hard enough without having to deal with people he can't quite understand or tolerate. As Good As It Gets won both the Best Actor Academy Award for Nicholson and Best Actress for Helen Hunt. Both deserved to win, as they have some terrific chemistry together. Shout out also for Cuba Gooding Jr. as a very funny and sweet character who tells Melvin that he has to take care of his friend's dog. Through doing this little kindness, Melvin begins to understand and appreciate the friendship of others. Greg Kinnear plays an artist who gets attacked by low down types, who needs the help of Melvin. Most movies can't get one relationship right, where as this has several that are so on point and touching. The ending is one of my all time favourites. Not too extreme, there are is no big Singin' In The Rain style happy ending, it's just small enough to be realistic. But the small progress Melvin has made in expressing his love for Helen Hunt's character is enough to be hopeful for the future.
While I adore all of Brooks' films, my very favourite is his most recent, How Do You Know, released in 2010 - I can't believe it's been seven years - and starring the lovable Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and returning for a fourth time, the legendary Jack Nicholson. It is a film about how life can change in the most unexpected ways and how you deal with these disappointments. Reese Witherspoon is just gorgeous in this movie, as are Rudd and Wilson. But Reese Witherspoon is the heart of the movie, and her journey through being in love with two people at the same time is really compelling and well observed. Jack Nicholson is just as good as ever and plays a conflicted character who wants his son to take the rap for some illegal activity but eventually, through seeing his son happy with Witherspoon's character, takes the blame on himself. It is a very funny movie, as per usual with Brooks, and I found it tremendously heartfelt and touching.
I really hope that James L. Brooks will return for another movie, sometime soon. He is one of the greatest, wisest writer and directors of all time. If you haven't seen these movies, I highly recommend giving them a watch. They are truly beautiful and as funny as anything you'll see. From Taxi to The Simpsons to Broadcast News, James L. Brooks has guaranteed his reputation as one of the sharpest voices in American comedy. He has given me so much through my life and I will always be indebted to him and his work. Thank you Jim, I wish you nothing but the best.