Broadcast News (1987)
Broadcast News (1987)

Genre: Comedy and Romantic Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 13 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R

Director: James L. Brooks Actors: William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Holly Hunter, Robert Prosky, Lois Chiles, Joan Cusack, Jack Nicholson, Peter Hackes, Christian Clemenson

 


 

K

ansas City, Missouri, in 1963, finds young Tom struggling to make passing grades in school – even if he receives constant attention from every older woman in every establishment into which he enters. “What can you do with yourself if all you can do is look good?” he asks his father, who suggests a tutor. Fortunately for Tom, attractiveness can indeed prove fortuitous in virtually every career – especially one in television.

Meanwhile, in Boston, in 1965, 15-year-old Aaron takes a beating from the older boys in school, but he’s certain that with his advanced intelligence, he’ll travel the world and make something of himself, while those bullies will be stuck in Massachusetts, never earning more than $19,000 per year. And little Jane is in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1968, earnestly studying while her father can’t seem to understand his precocious, bookish daughter, who will surely have a bright future. As it so happens, as adults, Tom Grunick (William Hurt) and Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) become anchors, while Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) becomes a producer – all for the same news network.

Being successful isn’t without its problems, however. Jane feels as if she’s repelling those she’s trying to seduce, primarily due to her unavoidable verbosity, while also secretly crying at various times due to overwhelming stress; Tom bemoans the fact that he’s not well-educated, has no experience, and can’t write, likely only furthering his career due to his looks (his choice of words is usually unrefined), while only pretending to be a reporter (along the lines of impostor syndrome); and Aaron worries about slipping backward in his career, losing his momentum and being unable to progress (or getting passed up). And when the three of them spend more and more time together, with a love triangle forming (or a quadrangle, when coworker Jennifer [Lois Chiles] enters the picture), personal drama is bound to boil over.

“You make me nervous.” Putting together news pieces proves to be hectic and chaotic, with navigation around the offices a ludicrously fast-paced danger-zone. And the oftentimes manipulative, potentially staged nature of broadcasting is similarly tense. Plus, internal contentions arise, with egos clashing and old feuds refusing to die – chiefly with big-shot anchor Bill Rorish (Jack Nicholson, in a minor but unforgettable part), whose prestige allows him to call the plays. From the perspective of writer/director James L. Brooks (no relation to star Albert), the newsroom is just as tumultuous as the literal war-torn jungles of South America, where the unexpected manifests and compelling reporting takes place.

Written, produced, and directed by the Best Picture Oscar winner of “Terms of Endearment” four years earlier, “Broadcast News” mines humor from otherwise serious scenarios, reminiscent of a comedic version of “Network,” what with its overabundance of rapid-fire dialogue and battles between executives and bustling employees striving to remain relevant or essential. It isn’t about belly-laughs; Brooks’ method is to use subtleness to allow the hilarity to escalate on its own. And the interactions are extremely grounded; no hints of contrived coincidences or outright fantasy disrupt the sincerity of the script (save for a now-classic moment of excessive perspiration [“flop-sweat”]).

It’s also partly educational, even if the technology and processes won’t stay applicable forever, but it’s mainly entertaining – the central three characters are highly personable, funny, and sympathetic. There’s no obvious villain here; instead, they’re each believable, genuine personas with individual pressures and predicaments that shape their self-doubt, inadequacies, and other common foibles. With the attention to character development, “Broadcast News” is an exceptionally authentic human tale – and it also features a compelling love story, full of affecting angst and powerful performances, made more potent by the ordinariness of the arguments and the reconciliations and the thoughtful dialogue. Nothing about the film is overwrought or over-the-top; it’s an impressively well-balanced, pleasing work, even if the conclusion is a touch too easy, a bit too artificial, designed for the sake of an agreeable outcome.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10