Life Stinks is the 1991 film written and directed by Mel Brooks that is unanimously considered the beginning of his artistic decline. In fact, after that he only made two more not-so-memorable films and never went back behind the camera. But does Life Stinks really deserve its terrible fame? Well, it’s not one of Mel Brooks’s best works by any means, but it’s not that bad either!
The plot can be summarized very quickly. An ultra-millionaire heartless financier (Mel Brooks) decides to live for a month as a homeless in a poor Los Angeles neighborhood to win a lucrative bet with his rival (Jeffrey Tambor). The experience will totally change him and he will meet many wonderful persons which will change his life.
Ok, nothing too original here. It reminded me of Trading Places (1983), of the contemporary The Fisher King (1991 – among other things, both films contain an imaginative dance scene), and also of Mark Twain’s book The Prince and the Pauper (1881). As if that weren’t enough, the first two thirds of films develop in a fairly predictable way and with sketches which mostly fall flat.
But the third act, in my opinion, is very good and elevates the movie which struggles with its comedy but at the end manages to convey a beautiful message, criticizing the greedy rich capitalists and poetically appreciating the simple life of the forgotten ones of our society.
In terms of directorial style, I found the movie a bit blend, except the great opening scene which perfectly introduces the protagonist simply by showing his feet in a long take: he’s surrounded by yes men, he’s self-centered and extremely selfish. As for the rest, here’s a bunch of static shots and close-ups to emphasize the comedic gags that don’t work for the most part (sometimes even due to the wrong comedic timing). As an actor, however, Brooks is at his best, accompanied by excellent supporting actors like Lesley Ann Warren and Teddy Wilson. And I couldn’t fail to notice Brian Thompson, obviously playing a bad guy (as in The Terminator, 1984, or in various episodes of The X-Files and Star Trek!)?
The soundtrack by John Morris, a longtime collaborator of Brooks, does a good job both in the light-hearted moments and in the more dramatic ones like the death scene of poor Sailor (Howard Morris). And I guess that the Coen brothers remembered the scene of his friends scattering his ashes while filming The Big Lebowski (1998), right? It’s the same sketch!
To conclude, I would recommend watching Life Stinks, even if its rhythm suffers at times and sometimes it doesn’t feel very original. However, there are some excellent acting performances and the interesting underlying themes are treated well, with the right tone. Plus, there are some excellent comic moments concentrated mostly in the finale (the duel between the two rich men is memorable). Ciao!