David (Albert Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) Howard are a California yuppie couple who are just about ready to move into a new and larger house. Although she feels in a rut at her job, he eagerly awaits promotion to a V.P. slot in the advertising agency where he's worked for years.
When David's boss tells him that the position has been given to another man and that he wants him to handle a new account in New York City, the ever-steady and responsible David explodes in a verbal torrent of anger and sarcasm. Naturally, he's fired. Eight years of playing the corporate game, and it all comes to zip.
Eager to savor his new freedom, David convinces Linda to quit her job. They liquidate their assets, purchase a Winnebago, and hit the open road. "We'll be like Easy Rider with a nest egg!" he tells his wife.
But the dream is short-lived. Linda, in a rush of adrenalin, blows their $150,000 nest egg at the roulette table while David sleeps in their Las Vegas hotel room. After a clever but unsuccessful attempt to convince the casino manager (Garry K. Marshall) to return their money as a public relations gesture, the Howards drive on to Hoover Dam where David blows his stack and blames Linda for ruining their lives.
Eventually, they stop in a small Arizona town where she finds employment at a hotdog stand, and after a humiliating meeting with a job counselor, David lands a job as a school-crossing guard. It's all a far cry from their affluent lifestyle in California.
An audacious movie, Lost in America serves up a serio-comic look at the work ethic of yuppies who measure their worth in terms of financial success while inwardly dreaming about a carefree life of total freedom. This fantasy is, of course, the theme of many movies.
Albert Brooks makes David Howard into a hyperactive, cocky young man who when push comes to shove can't handle the dirty little surprises that life brings his way. And when the going gets tough, this yuppie turns into a puppy and races off to New York City to claim the very job he once viewed as a joke.
In this well-realized and very relevant movie, Brooks manages to make us ponder the quiet desperation of our working lives and the sharp edges of our fantasies which if fulfilled could be far more treacherous than we might think.