Albert Brooks does failure better than anyone. To go chronologically through his films is to see failure every step of the way. In the first twenty years of his film career — Taxi Driver (1976), Real Life (1979), Modern Romance (1981), Lost in America (1985), Defending Your Life (1991), I’ll Do Anything (1994), The Scout (1994), and Mother (1996) — he plays a loser more often than not. Part of the pathos of watching Brooks is that he gets older, but his star persona doesn’t learn anything.

His on-air sweat meltdown in Broadcast News is exhibit A, but one image captures the incredible gap between what Aaron Altman could be and what he actually is – and it’s a little piece of set dressing:

Of course he would have a photo from Richard Nixon’s resignation – he fancies himself an important crusading journalist. But Brooks doesn’t take down Nixon or anyone of his ilk in Broadcast New, mostly because he is Nixon. RN, after all, even as the President of the United States of America, felt like he wasn’t at the top of the heap, like enemies were holding him down. That’s Aaron Altman. That’s the Albert Brooks star persona. To be fair, Aaron Altman tracks down stories worth pursuing like central American revolutions. Aaron Altman is scucessful – but he himself cannot believe it. In spite of his achievements he considers himself a complete failure. Broadcast News nudges into thinking that’s because he and Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) never couple off.

The question of “having it all” – job/financial success and a heteronormative life in suburbia – is almost universally applied to women. Albert Brooks may be one of the few male figures who not only confronts the question, but also answers it: No.

As an aside, the new incarnation of this problem is Steve Coogan, most notably in Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, Hamlet 2, and The Trip. I could be convinced about Tropic Thunder and even his cameo-ish appearance in In the Loop.