This might sound hard to believe, but the notion that Americans all live in hermetic, deluded bubbles defined by their own narrow experiences existed long before anyone ever heard of social media. In the final act of the 1985 comedy Lost in America, a beleaguered yuppie named David Howard (Albert Brooks) finally gives up on his dream of quitting his job and traveling the country free of responsibilities, and walks over to the local employment office of Safford, Arizona, the sparsely populated town he’s found himself in. He defends his decision to walk away from his previous job (advertising executive) and salary (about $100,000 a year), telling the incredulous clerk, “I’ve come here to live. I’ve come to change my life.” The clerk stifles a laugh. “You couldn’t change it on $100,000?” he asks.
Lost in America, released Tuesday on Blu-ray in a shiny new Criterion Collection edition, is Brooks’s masterpiece of Reagan-era mockery, one that’s more caustic than his later comedies (Defending Your Life, Mother, The Muse) and more empathetic than his earlier ones (Real Life, Modern Romance). The plot is simple: David, passed up for a promotion, quits his job and encourages his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) to do the same. They then buy a Winnebago, divest themselves of their property, and endeavor to see the country in a fresh way, to “touch Indians,” as David repeatedly puts it, one of his many tin-eared summations of his new life.