Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World review by Tom Blain
I had read some articles on Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World a month or so before I saw it at the theatre. Reports said that Brooks movie was rejected by a studio (Sony, I believe) because the title was too controversial. Ive never been a big Albert Brooks fan; to me he is just Woody Allen on the West Coast. Ive seen a few of his movies (Defending Your Life, and Lost in America) but never thought of they were anything extrodinary. But he is a revered comic writer and his latest movie (by title and hype) seemed to have great potential. Unfortunately that potential is never realized.
In Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, Albert Brooks plays Albert Brooks; director, actor, screenwriter and most importantly comedian. He gets a letter from the federal government requesting his comedic services. Other comedians were asked but Albert has more time on his hands. Very simply put, he is requested by the government to understand what makes the Muslim people laugh. The idea is that if we know what makes them laugh then we might not be able to understand them and end this war. A bit safer than building spying and bombing.
So Brooks sets out on a month long journey through India and Pakistan with the challenge of finding out what makes these people laugh. At his side are two states department agents that operate with bureaucratic efficiency (thats sarcasm; they teach it in this film) and a beautiful bright-eyed Indian typist named Maya (Sheetal Sheth) who provides him undying and undeserved support even in his darkest hours. Its Mayas job to take what Brooks learns and turn it into a 500-page report; not an easy task.
At first Brooks takes to stopping people on the streets and asking them what they find funny. He gets a few answers, but never seems to apply what he learns. Then he searches for comedy clubs and finds out, "viola!", they don't exist in India! So he decides to do a standup bit and show off an array of jokes hoping that they would be hit and miss; with the hits he will have a good idea of what is funny to these people.
Like the last Brooks movie I saw, Lost in America, Brooks' character sets out to make a "big difference" in the outside world or in his own world and ends up coming back to where he started. In LiA he tries to remove himself from big business and the establishment. They are former hippies, now yuppies and find that they are so tightly wound to their connections to the good life that he and his wife come back begging to get their yuppie life back. In Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, Brooks sets out to on a mission to bring peace between the U.S. and Muslim nations and by the end accomplishes absolutely nothing.
The one thing you can take away from the movie is that we all laugh at the same things regardless of which region of the world we live in. Nice theory which is true on some levels but I think this view is a bit shallow. There are obviously some differences; none of which Brooks discovered. With a movie daringly named, you would think Brooks would get past his own self-indulgent, unfunny jokes to dig below the surface for once. Instead of shedding light on the cultures of another nation, Looking for Comedy becomes more and more about the oblivious, self-absorbed, spoiled American character that Brooks portrays (or is in real life). If I wanted to see anymore testimonial on this, I could watch Defending Your Life.
If you are going to see Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World dont expect to find it in the film. The title would lead you to believe this would be a film with more depth but its really just like watching a feature length episode of Curb Your Enthusiam in India. There are some funny moments, but some of the scenes are just plain frustrating. There is this urge to want to see the character move forward and make some discovery. There are moments where I wanted to scream Just listen for once! but it never happened. In the end, even the good jokes are tarnished by an idea that never lifts off the ground.
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