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Film / Lost in America

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"Say it! Say it! Say 'I lost the nest egg'. Go on, say it!"

Lost in America is a satirical 1985 comedy directed and co-written by Albert Brooks, who also stars in it along with Julie Hagerty.

David Howard (Brooks) is a Los Angeles advertising executive counting on a big promotion. He does get a promotion of sorts — he's being sent to New York City — but because it's not the one he's expecting, he flies into a rage and quits on the spot. He then convinces his wife Linda (Hagerty) to quit her job as well, so they can hit the road in their Winnebago, and live their lives like the characters from Easy Rider. Hilarity Ensues.

Tropes used in this film:

  • American Title: Symbolic of two aging boomers, gripped in a mid-life crisis, who make a serious mistake by trying to "find themselves" by exploring America.
  • The Cameo: James L. Brooks as a guest at David and Linda's going-away party.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early in the film, when David thinks he's going to get the promotion for Senior Vice President, he's on the phone talking with a dealer about a new Mercedes. Later in the film, after he's been left as a crossing guard at a school, David sees a Mercedes drive up to him to ask for directions. It's only then that David decides to "eat shit" and go to New York to beg for his job back.
  • Crossing the Burnt Bridge: After running his mouth and losing his job because of a Passed-Over Promotion in New York City, David gets fired, but he seems to think of this as a blessing in disguise. After realizing what a huge mistake they made, David and Linda decide their best option is to go to New York so that David can "eat shit" and essentially beg for his job back. He does get the position, but a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue card informs the audience that he had to take a 31 percent pay cut.
  • Deconstruction: Of Road Trip Plots and "journey of discovery" films. David gets angry when he learns that he's getting transferred to New York instead of a promotion, which would probably have been a great opportunity for him and was done because of how well-respected he is for his skill set. But since it's not what he was expecting or what he wants, he gets mad, throws a tantrum at his boss and prospective work partner, gets fired, and then pressures his wife Linda into quitting her job (which she wasn't exactly crazy about either). The couple then comes up with a half-baked scheme to live under the radar in a motor home, living off of just enough money by excluding some life's necessities. But this comes with many mishaps: enduring the humiliation of being reduced to a crosswalk guard where he was mocked by Spoiled Brats, having their nest egg bet away by Linda because of a crazy gambling high while David himself was asleep, and making an enemy out of a wanted murderer. Ultimately, David discovers that he was really better off where he was, so he goes to New York and manages to get his job back with a pay cut.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Having less than eight hundred dollars to your name is hard times, so David has to take a job as a crossing guard in a small Arizona town. It works out horribly, as he gets mocked by Spoiled Brats on bicycles who mock David for being old and out-of-shape.
  • Fish out of Water: David and Lisa are comically out of place as urban yuppies trying to make a go of it in small-town Arizona. The man at the employment office cackles with laughter after David tells him that David quit a job where he made $100,000 a year to go on a Journey to Find Oneself.
  • Flipping the Bird: The futility of David and Linda seeking to escape their yuppie lifestyle is first demonstrated when David, driving the Winnebago down the highway, honks and gives a thumbs-up to a biker. The biker gives him the finger. In the light of everything that follows, this actually counts as Foreshadowing.
  • From New York to Nowhere: David and Linda leave Los Angeles for the open road, only to lose all their money gambling in Las Vegas and have to take crappy jobs in a small town. Subverted in that in the end they leave the town as fast as they can and move back to the big city in New York.
  • The Gambling Addict: Unbeknownst to David, Linda is one of these. He finds out the hard way when Linda loses the nest egg at a casino.
  • Going to See the Elephant: David and Linda quit their jobs in order to "discover America". They do so by traveling around in a Winnebago on the back roads, looking for new things to see and do.
  • Hope Spot: Linda repeatedly bets on 22 on the roulette wheel in Vegas. By the time David comes to the table, the ball does indeed land on 22. However, it only wins 35 dollars, and Linda has lost the entire nest egg, which David only finds out after pulling Linda away.
  • Journey to Find Oneself: Deconstructed. David throws a tantrum at his boss, gets fired, and then pressures his wife Linda into quitting her job. The two of them have a half-baked scheme to live under the radar in a motor home, living off of just enough money by excluding some life's necessities. But, the two of them clearly have no idea what they're doing, leading to a massive amount of hardship for both of them. After losing everything they own, David and Linda finally realize that their mid-life crises were a really dumb reason to try and live off the grid, that the two of them have ultimately learned nothing about themselves from the experience, and they were just fine as they were.
  • Leave the Camera Running: The opening credits play over a five-minute unbroken shot that slowly takes the viewer around the boxed-up possessions in the Howard home, before finally finding David and Linda in bed.
  • Passed-Over Promotion: David overreacts when he doesn't get a promotion to Senior Vice President. Instead, he gets a transfer to a similar (but ultimately lesser) position in New York City. David doesn't react kindly to this, flipping out and getting fired from his job when he calls everyone in the room names.
  • Refuge in Audacity: After Linda loses all of their money gambling, David goes to the casino manager and asks them, as a bold advertising ploy, to give them their money back. The casino manager balks at the idea.
  • Road Trip Plot: A middle-aged married couple decides to leave the rat race behind and go wandering around America in an RV. It turns out badly when they keep running into different obstacles over and over that they are in no way prepared to deal with.
  • Running Gag: Asking people if they've seen the film Easy Rider. It turns into a Chekhov's Gun when a policeman says it's his favorite movie, getting David and Linda out of a speeding ticket.
  • Shout-Out: The number Linda keeps betting on the roulette wheel is 22, the winning number in the roulette scene in Casablanca.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • David bases the idea that he and Linda can pull off a Journey to Find Oneself because that's what happened in Easy Rider. As David and Linda are shocked to discover, it's a lot more work than shown in that movie, especially when David and Linda are grossly out of their element. Not only is the lifestyle of the wandering vagabond not very glamorous, but they end up losing everything they have, get stuck in low-paying jobs, and nearly get divorced because of how many things go wrong.
    • After the couple each hit their Rage Breaking Point, Linda hitchhikes with the driver of a muscle car that she sees, prompting David to give chase in the motor home. Too bad for David that he does this near the Hoover Dam, which has a lot of steep inclines on its roads. As a wide-angle shot shows, the motor home can't gain anywhere near the speed that a muscle car can on such inclines, and David loses them. It doesn't matter how mad David is at the situation; all his anger isn't going to change the laws of physics.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: After losing his job, David recalls a conversation he had the previous night with Linda about how they need to take more risks and be more spontaneous. So they spontaneously sell off their home and travel around the country on a Journey to Find Oneself. And it goes very badly when they're two yuppies in places where such a thing is simply not respected. David ends up Crossing the Burnt Bridge when he realizes what a dumb mistake he made.
  • Tranquil Fury: After their nest egg is lost in Vegas, David is eerily quiet for most of the trip to the Hoover Dam. Once there, it takes a minor slip-up for David to hit his Rage Breaking Point and actually set him off.
  • Travel Montage: The film ends with a montage of David and Linda's road trip to New York, which includes a bridge over the Mississippi River, the Capitol Building in Washington DC, and the Gaffney Peach.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: David is a shallow yuppie who blows up at work when he doesn't get a promotion he feels he's owed, and flushes his career down the toilet as a result. Linda gambles away their entire nest egg that they got from liquidating their assets. Their own foolish choices leave them in poverty. Were these good and decent people, this entire story would play out like a tragedy. But they're also rather rude to everyone else, try zany schemes to get what they want, try and bribe people into doing what they want when things don't work out, and continuously make things worse for themselves through their own characters faults. That way, the audience can laugh at their pain.
  • Viva Las Vegas!: The plan to live off the grid goes awry when Linda blows all of their money in a single night at roulette.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: David got his job back with a 31% pay cut but better medical, Linda got a job at Bloomingdale's, and she's pregnant with their first child.
  • You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: David has this reaction when he finds out that Linda blew their nest egg gambling on a roulette wheel in Vegas.