JUNK FOOD: A Change of Plans in Real Life

August 2022

I’m not great with making plans. My heart races as I run through scenarios in my head trying to anticipate how things might go with plans that will take me out of my routine-driven cocoon. Being caught off-guard or feeling unprepared are at the root of this deep, body worry, I think. Or, maybe it’s that I know I only have a certain amount of energy should things go sideways. This is irrational. I’ve got a management plan and things aren’t as debilitating as they might be, but still; this is my anxiety, and it’s exhausting.

I know that being able to venture out without a clear set of plans means accepting that the narrative is not set, and that the ending is TBD. But this is basically anathema for someone who watches the same things over and over to self-soothe.

I can’t figure out if this anxiety makes my fondness for stories with unconventional, meta elements make sense, or the opposite. But some of my favorites lean into winking at the fourth wall by nesting stories within stories, and shifting our responsibility as viewers: AdaptationMulholland DriveTampopoBaron Munchausen. Or the movie that manages to subvert the medium through leveraging anxiety: Albert Brooks’ 1979 REAL LIFE.

There’s a lot going on in Brooks’ debut film. Watching it *gulp* 43 years after its release is an utter trip as it predicts the novelty, ubiquity, and ultimate disappointment of reality-driven programming. But Brooks shows the absurdity of trying to capture a triumphant narrative in real time without any direction; there’s no plan, and no parts of the venture work out. Sure, REAL LIFE is fiction, but it says something real.

Watching things go wrong in REAL LIFE, while being made complicit—Brooks talks to us/you/me through the camera—is equal parts funny and stressful. Having things go wrong in real life? Less funny. But watching Brooks prove that a little planning can go a long way feels like real life vindication.

Maybe I’ll make some plans. And maybe I’ll change them. Either way… I’ll have to think it through.