There are no meet-cutes in Albert Brooks' Modern Romance. There also isn't quirky sitcom banter, a gay best friend, any contrived signal-crossing or coincidences, or an ending where the hero runs several city blocks, jumps in a lake, or stops a plane on the tarmac to woo his sweetheart. In other words, it's the dark antithesis to the romantic comedy, that frothy subgenre which typically buries any insight into love and relationships under several layers of horse manure. Released the year after Raging Bull, Modern Romance could be its comedic cousin, with Brooks as a buttoned-down Jake La Motta who doesn't speak with his fists, but harbors a comparable degree of possessiveness when it comes to women. He and his on-again/off-again girlfriend Kathryn Harrold have nothing in common and make each other miserable, yet he can't cast her away, because the idea of her with another man drives him crazy. Brooks pushes his neurotic persona to near-pathological extremes, yet the film consistently finds the humor in his sick obsession.
In the opening scene, Brooks breaks up with Harrold for what sounds like the umpteenth time. He's committed to making it stick, but the days that follow are like a painful detox session, which he survives by any means necessary—including 'ludes, vitamins, and in one unforgettable scene (featuring Brooks' brother Bob Einstein, better known as "Super Dave Osborne"), jogging. Failing that, he circles the block around her house at night, harasses her at work, and finally cajoles her into getting back together, only to be reminded anew what a miserable couple they make. Meanwhile, his insecurities bleed into his job as a movie editor, as he labors to salvage a science-fiction film starring George Kennedy.
More than most writer-directors who put themselves in the center of their movies, Brooks has always been ruthlessly self-deprecating about his onscreen persona, but that doesn't begin to describe how far from ingratiating he is in Modern Romance. All the ugly feelings dredged up by a poisonous relationship are explored with brutal candor, and it's a small miracle that a film this courageously bleak could mine laughs from such dark corners.
Key features: As with other undervalued Brooks comedies, the DVD has no extras, but it does feature the most embarrassingly literal box art in recent memory.