Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Rated PG-13; Directed by Albert Brooks; Starring Albert Brooks, Sheetal Sheth, Jon Tenney, John Carroll Lynch
Albert Brooks is an acquired taste. His comedy is low-key and self-deprecating and the laughs come from watching him flounder in awkward situations. Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World gives him plenty of those situations. If you enjoy Brooks’ angst-filled humor you will find this movie a pleasant one; if you find Brooks’ fretting an irritant then this movie will have you climbing the walls. I fall in the former category.
Albert Brooks has the fun of playing…Albert Brooks. Finding his career in the doldrums and unable to even get much of an audition for a remake of “Harvey” (Penny Marshall plays herself in this hilarious scene) Brooks is interested in an offer by the United States government – go to India and Pakistan and discover what Muslims find funny. Initially reluctant (he’ll need to write a 500-page report) he’s swayed by the promise of the Medal of Freedom. Thus, Brooks heads off to India with two government aides (Jon Tenney and John Carroll Lynch) in tow, with his newfound mission – to discover humor in a world different from his.
Brook tries several methods to discover the funny bone of Indians. With the aid of his assistant, Maya (Sheetal Sheth), he heads out into the streets to ask passing strangers what they find funny. When this method leaves him 498 pages short of his report he comes up with the idea of doing a standup comedy show for the locals. Let’s just say the results have nothing to do with funny, at least for the onscreen audience, but for us it offers plenty of laughs.
Directed and written by Brooks, the movie drifts along cheerfully. Unlike Defending Your Life and Lost in America, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World is a slight film with a weak plot, but there are still good, funny moments. Sheetal Sheth helps with the fun as the assistant not used to Brooks’ humor, as does the gorgeous scenes of India (watch the Taj Mahal pass by unnoticed by Brooks). The real charm is watching Brooks make fun of himself, or a version of himself. His “character” is so oblivious to how he comes across. Whether he’s bombing on stage, meeting with the folks at Al-Jazeera, or inadvertently starting a war, Brooks’ character is oblivious to the craziness of it all.
Comedy fans looking for the easy joke won’t find it with Brooks’ gentle humor. He keeps it understated. For the folks who do enjoy Albert Brooks, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World offers enough laughs to keep you happy. Tastes differ and Brooks isn’t for everybody, but for his fans this movie gives us enough angst and fretting to last until his next film.