James L. Brooks is to comedy/dramas what a beloved general
is to troops:...beloved.
Brooks wrote, directed and produced 1987s Broadcast
News, the tale of three network news hounds trying to capture respect and quality in the business. Brooks hatched the idea after going to a conference of news reporter professionals and befriending many
of them. He based his three lead characters on the people he met there.
The three couldnt be more different from each other, and
they couldnt be more alike. The contradiction is glaring until it is abundantly
clear its true. The film starts with the three as children.
Tom (William Hurt) is an earnest, but unlucky at academics
boy in search of pleasing his working class dad.
Jane (Holly Hunter) is a little girl with neuroses that
rival even the greatest eccentrics.
Aaron (Albert Brooks) is an overachieving fifteen year
old belittling his older fellow graduates with the retort that theyll never make more than 19,000 dollars a year.
We catch up with them as adults, Jane and Aaron already
co-workers and best friends; and Tom as a green anchor recruit. Jane is speaking
at a conference for news business professionals not unlike the one Brooks attended.
She gives an impassioned presentation on the programming of newsworthy items.
When she is ignored and dismissed by her colleagues, she slumps beleaguered back into her seat at the front of the
hall. Tom walks up to her and complements her on her speech. They eat dinner. They walk.
They head for Janes hotel room. Jane wants to get lucky. Tom wants to tell his story.
Tom says he is one of those people Jane hates in the business
a former sports reporter, uneducated, and looking to become a network news anchor. His
speech is simple, polite, and impassioned in its own right. It also tells us
everything we need to know about the character. He walks out of the hotel room
immediately following his speech saying is coming to work at the network Jane works at.
Jane gets mad for two reasons. 1) The epitome of what she stands against
is coming to work at her place of business and 2) she wanted to get lucky. We
learn everything we need to know about her character in those moments and the moments following.
The stage is set for newsroom antics when Jane wants a
shot of a Norman Rockwell painting to be shot and edited into a news piece about a solider coming home. They have ten minutes before the story goes to air and Tom walks in to observe the moment the situation
blows up. The next five minutes is one of the most hectic and funny scenes filmed
in the 1980s and certainly the best about the news business ever.
Tom is called to anchor a disaster in an emergency and
the camaraderie he forms as Jane spills lines into his earpiece is the basis of the films story until, lo and behold, Janes
best friend and oft-forgotten news reader Aaron declares his love for her. What
follows is the best love triangle I have seen on film and certainly the least polarizing.
In all other cases, the viewer is called on to choose which mate he or she prefers for the main character. In Broadcast News, theyre all main characters and you switch alliances and beliefs almost as much
as the characters do.
The film contains amazing performances from Hunter and
Hurt, two thespians that should have worked together again. They each play the
surfaces and insecurities of their characters with a believable naturalism that lends credibility to the genre. I didnt take to Albert Brooks. He has some of the funniest
scenes and delivers his lines with the dry wit that they require, but he never convinced me he wasnt playing himself. His moments of laughter and bonding with Hunter fell flat as well in a movie that
needed a good third corner for the triangle.
The films rapier wit and cleverness can be attributed to
James L. Brooks. The films levels are all over the map, from drama to romance
to comedy. He made them all work and work together. He coaxed great performances out of his cast and managed to turn the plight of the news industry and its
constituents into an incredibly entertaining movie.
In the end though, I felt left out in the cold by the ending. I dont hate it. I dont even think its
wrong. I just thought that the end of a film that showed so much tenderness,
wit, and skill would do the same.