We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
It may take more skill and intelligence to live without money than to make and spend a great deal of it, and that is the buried message of “Life Stinks,” a warmhearted new comedy from Mel Brooks.
It’s easy to sit inside an air-conditioned car and feel scorn for some poor wretch who is trying to earn a quarter for wiping a rag across the windshield. But if we were out there on the streets without a home or money, what bright ideas would we come up with? Donald Trump can make millions selling condos to other millionaires, but could he make 10 bucks in a day if he had to start from scratch? The conventional wisdom in these situations is that the poor and homeless should get a grip on themselves, should pull themselves up by their bootstraps. But if they have no boots, what then? Wasn’t it Anatole France who said that the Law, in its magnificent equality, prohibits the rich as well as the poor from sleeping under bridges and begging in the streets? What Brooks does with this idea is tell a fable of a rich urban developer who finds himself on the streets, in the ghetto, wondering where his next meal is coming from.
Brooks plays the rich man himself. His name is Goddard Bolt, and he intends to buy a large, wretchedly poor area of Los Angeles, tear it down, and start over - at immense profit to himself. His archenemy in business is a predatory capitalist named Vance Crasswell (played by Jeffrey Tambor with oily superiority). They get in a bidding and bluffing war, and it finally all comes down to a bet: The Brooks character bets he can live for 30 days, by his wits, as a homeless bum - without ever stepping foot outside the area.
This is a premise Brooks and his writers have borrowed from “Sullivan’s Travels,” the 1939 Preston Sturges classic in which Joel McCrea plays a Hollywood director who went on the road as a bum. But the streets are a little meaner in 1991 than they were in 1939, and the affluent are stingier. It is sometimes all Brooks can do to make his movie seem like a comedy, when the desperation of the homeless is so evident in every scene.