'Morning Glory' is no 'Broadcast News': PopWatch Rewind, Week 13

 

broadcast-news-posterTelevision news has always ripe for the satiric picking, but it seems, via some form of Stockholm Syndrome, we’ve gotten a little more lenient with it over the years. In 1976, there was Network, a scorched earth, razor-sharp black satire that held no prisoners, and now, 34 years later, we have Morning Glory, in which a perky morning news producer teaches a cranky old legitimate journalist that it’s okay to be frivolous. And somewhere in between there’s James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News: A movie that manages to both take its subject mercilessly to task and have well-rounded characters you love and remember. With Morning Glory in theaters and Brooks’ love-triangle movie How Do You Know coming up quick (Dec. 17, to be exact), we decided it was the perfect time to revisit the 1987 romantic dramedy. Now, I’m going to throw it over to us for the color commentary. Film at 11.

Keith Staskiewicz: It’s almost insane seeing a romantic comedy that has characters — actual three-dimensional characters — in it with more than one personality trait and motivations other than “me want promotion” or “me want husband” or “me can’t stand this person that is completely different from me, no, wait, me love him”  and making decisions based on emotions, rather than whatever will get us into the next montage the quickest.

Darren Franich: I despise the romantic comedy pop-music montage (or RomComPopMuMo, as it’s known among film scholars). In the ’80s, a movie was only allowed to have one montage, and it had to be awesome. Without that crutch, Broadcast News has scenes that just stretch on, filled with moments of incredible naturalism that seem practically Brando-esque by comparison to Confessions of a Shopaholic. Like when William Hurt is joyfully pushing Holly Hunter back and forth in her seat after their first big story. By the way, Broadcast News has one of the best special effects in film history: the incredible height difference between Holly Hunter and William Hurt.

A workaholic in her natural habitat

KS: The movie still manages to be a scathing critique of network news without having to reduce the characters to caricatures. (Which, much as I love it, Network doesn’t do.) There are three amazing characters in this movie, compared to the half-of-one in Morning Glory. And almost everything you need to know about each of them is perfectly encapsulated by the prologue of them as kids.

DF: Intriguingly, from the prologue as kids to the seven-years-later epilogue, they don’t necessarily change at all. They just seem to become more themselves. Like, Albert Brooks is still a sardonic douche, he’s just a bit quieter about it, mostly because he’s whispering his smartassery into his son’s ears. William Hurt is still a doofus, but he’s learned how to project gravitas. Holly Hunter is still a workaholic, but maybe she doesn’t cry anymore. Or maybe she does? So ambiguous! Whereas all the ambiguity in Morning Glory gets thrown out the window right around the moment that the movie insists that sending a reporter on a roller coaster is great TV.

Bonding over a shared love of shoulderpads

KS: In Broadcast News, Hunter and Brooks play the last bastions of credibility and objective reporting in a profession sinking into the morass of inanity. The state of news in the past 20 years has totally vindicated the movie’s wariness (…ironically says the entertainment journalist). Morning Glory takes the opposite side. There’s nothing wrong with inanity at all. In fact, that’s exactly what we need. And not only should Rachel McAdams be happy with her quick and easy recipes and dogs that can dial 911, but she should actively seek to destroy those who disagree. Like Harrison Ford’s character.

DF: The news anchor in Broadcast News is the example of the onrushing stupidity, whereas the news anchor in Morning Glory is the last bastion of old journalism. It’s almost as if William Hurt’s character grew up to be Harrison Ford, and gained loads of respect just because his own brand of sensationalism looks like Edward R. Murrow compared to what came after. There’s no one like a Holly Hunter in Morning Glory, and Albert Brooks is a distant memory.

KS: It’s just entertainment. Watch the domino championship and love it! Love it! Rachel McAdams’ character is that one voice saying “Good!” during Holly Hunter’s speech when she says we’ll be seeing a lot more of that stuff.

Little known fact: Approximately two-thirds of all news in the '80s was domino-related. The remaining third was split between Iran-Contra and Pac-Man.

DF: I think one key element in our enjoyment of BN is just how profoundly different romantic comedies are now than they were when it came out.

KS: In a typical rom-com today, Albert Brooks would get the girl in the end because he’s the unappreciated best friend, except he wouldn’t be played by Albert Brooks. The role of the dumpy, nerdy platonic buddy would be played by Patrick Wilson or Patrick Dempsey or some other decidedly un-dumpy, un-nerdy Patrick. But here, she doesn’t go for him, and she never will, because she doesn’t love him. For all her fetishization of integrity, she throws it all out the window when the tall, blond handsome anchor expresses a little interest in her. She’s in love with a man who she thinks is a jerk, she knows exactly how hypocritical that is, and kind of hates herself for it, but she can’t help it. See what I mean about three-dimensional?

"I'm Henry the Eighth, I am, I am. Henry the Eighth, I am!"

DF: I’m trying to decide if the main difference is that Broadcast News isn’t really about “romance.” It’s about a job. Or, more to the point, it uses romance as a way to explore the job. The movie has a whole back-and-forth between old-school ideals about news vs. new-wave infotainment. Albert Brooks and William Hurt represent those two notions, with Holly Hunter in the middle trying to choose.

KS: But it’s not just x=x and y=y. William Hurt isn’t a bad guy. And Albert Brooks, while entirely lovable, is kind of an ass. He’s entitled. He thinks just because he can write and speak well, everything should be handed to him, and when he doesn’t get it, he almost likes being the martyr. But, on the other hand, his speech about Hurt being the devil isn’t all that hyperbolic. As nice as Hurt is, and as earnest as he is, he’s still dangerous. He’s lowering those standards bit by tiny bit, until we have Rachael Ray wrestling Kathie Lee in a vat of EVOO.

DF: It’s a confusing balance. When Hurt cries while interviewing a date-rape victim, the scene is affecting, even though we later discover that it’s been staged. Conversely, Albert Brooks has all these high-minded ideals, but he simply can’t communicate. When he tries to be an anchor, he’s all flop-sweat and anxiety.

Anchoring the weekend news is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

KS: I think that scene between Albert Brooks and Holly Hunter, after his disastrous performance, is one of my favorite scenes in anything ever. There’s an amazing depressing soliloquy on television and American culture, and there are great lines like, “Oh, and I’m in love with you! Look at that, I buried the lede.” It just feels like an actual emotional event that has happened to a lot of people in real life. As opposed to running to the airport in the rain while holding a boom-box over your head that’s playing “Solsbury Hill.”

DF: God, the movie even seems to tease us with that at the end! Like, “Is she going to run through security and then get to the terminal and see the door closed? But then turn around and see William Hurt sitting in the chair waiting for her?”

And this is with Holly Hunter standing on a box.

KS: No, she drives home. Then they meet seven years later, and all they can do is look back at what might have been but wasn’t. And that’s what real life is. Apparently Brooks shot a scene where Hurt gets in the cab with her and that’s the end. To me, the fact that they shot that and then expressly decided against it makes it even better.

DF: I keep on going back-and-forth on who gives the best performance in this movie. Albert Brooks makes every single line of his dialogue sound like the funniest thing ever, until it becomes sad. William Hurt somehow makes you see how a complete lunkhead could turn into a Tom Brokaw figure. Holly Hunter is totally the center of the movie, and her performance is simultaneously very Katherine Heigl and anti-Katherine Heigl.

KS: I feel like Hunter’s character is a prototype that has been Xeroxed so many times you can’t even read the original writing.

A single tear for the future of network news

DF: It’s especially noticeable in Morning Glory. Rachel McAdams is, I think, a completely talented actress. And you can see where her character could have feasibly been fascinating. But her ultimate goal is… well, what is her ultimate goal? Holly Hunter’s motivating factor is a belief in journalism. Rachel McAdam’s motivating goal is “TV crazy wow happy sumo wrestling = fame!”

KS: Man, talk about lowering the standards of journalism. Okay, let’s wrap this up, I’ve got to go write up a post about a Beyoncé comic book and you have a Jersey Shore recap to do.

Next Week: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 marks the beginning of the end for the boy-wizard franchise. Judging by the previews, it will be a rough, monochromatic film, filled with moral ambiguity and enough paranoia to rival Three Days of the Condor. We’ll be flashing back to simpler times, when Harry’s biggest problem was bullies, Hogwarts was bright and bouncy, and the Quidditch scenes looked terrible. Join us for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone … the beginning of the beginning. (Of the beginning.)

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Comments (22 total) Add your comment
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  • Meg

    I recommend watching a marathon of Network then Broadcast News then The Insider. Each one predicts the direction the news media is going to take and the next one confirms it. Fascinating. Particularly to go straight from Broadcast News to The Insider.

    • dawnomite

      I will do that – I love both of those movies and would love to see them in sequence!

  • Sue

    For the past several days, I’ve been telling a coworker that he has to see this movie, which is one of my all-time favorites. This is a great article that really illuminates why it’s so wonderful. Thanks for this!

  • LostMom

    Broadcast News is one of my favorite movies EVER. Must have seen it 10 times by now. Love it every time. These comments are pretty right on — the characters are fully fleshed out and full of ambiguity — just like real people. One of my favorite lines: News director, said sarcastically to HH’s character, Jane: “It must be great to always be the smartest person in the room.” Jane’s perfectly genuine and earnest reply: “No, it’s awful.” And the scene in the control room when they’re trying to get the video cassette dubbed and loaded in time for the cue, Joan Cusack tripping everywhere — amazing (and funny to watch now … such a throwback in this digital world). Okay, I just decided I’ve gotta watch it again this weekend.

  • Jefffro

    This has been listed as my favorite movie of all time…..for years.

    Most people I say that to have no idea what this movie is…..if only this makes more people go out and watch Broadcast News….that would be a great thing!

  • tracy bluth

    Network is one of my favorite films EVER. I love how it still applies to television so perfectly today. Beatrice Straight (despite only being in two scenes), Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and William Holden all give some of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen.
    Yes, I realize this post is not about Network, but any chance I have to gush about Network I’ll take.

  • Lisa Simpson

    “Broadcast News” is not a romantic comedy, and I don’t understand why these two are calling it one. Is it because it’s a comedy with a female lead, so therefore it must be a romantic comedy? That’s inane. It is satire, a slightly more gentle one than ‘Network”, but still satire. It is not a romantic comedy.

    • Kristin

      I agree. I LOVE Broadcast News…but just by the trailers to Morning Glory, the two look vastly different. I would definitely not call Broadcast News a comedy or romantic comedy…which Morning Glory looks to be. So I don’t quite see the need for comparison….

      • katy

        I couldn’t agree more. There are plenty of exemplars of romantic comedies in the 1980s (one needs look no further than WHEN HARRY MET SALLY for three-dimensional characters). But Broadcast News is no such movie. Just because this movie contains romance and comedy does not a rom-com it make. It’s a drama through and through, in my opinion.

  • avidfan

    So glad you put a spotlight on this movie. It is one of my all-time favorites, and I still quote Albert Brooks’ Ahnuld impression when I’m in hotels: “I’ll meetch you in da lobbies.”

  • dawnomite

    I love Broadcast News. I saw Morning Glory last night, and I ultimately think it’s unfair to compare the two. They are both behind-the-scenes media stories, but that doesn’t mean MG was trying to be an updated version of BN. MG reminded me more of Little Black Book, which was awful. However, I enjoyed Morning Glory. Harmless fun. Broadcast News, on the other hand, represents GREAT filmmaking that is harder to come by nowadays. I enjoyed the beginning of this article when talking about how today’s rom-coms are all about montages instead of great characters. That’s why so many of them suck now!
    I always enjoy these columns.

  • danielle

    This is one of my favorite movies of all time! I particularly loved Keith’s observation about HH in love with a jerk and knows its hypocritical, and hates herself for it – I never processed it this way – but it is dead on. And I have to say that Darren even MENTIONING Katherine Heigel in relation to HH is blasphemy, if Heigel never makes another “rom com” it will be too soon! I think people do not want this movie called a romantic comedy is because it is too good for that genre.

    • dawnomite

      Agree with what you said about Heigl! Holly Hunter is in another class, completely!

      • MissM

        When I started to read that sentence, I thought they were going with Katherine Hepburn. Much more apt comparison.

  • JV

    Albert Brooks sweating his way out of his big chance as a network anchor is one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen.

  • LisaB

    “Wouldn’t this be a wonderful world if insecurity and depression made you more attractive?” ILU, Albert Brooks.

  • Bart

    Such a great movie. Love the recognition it’s getting in the media in regards to MORNING GLORY’s release.

  • Pink Houses

    Thanks for doing these “Rewinds”, they’re great. Good to appreciate and remember old movies.

  • Crystal

    Broadcast News is truly a modern classic. It is SO GOOD. I use his speech about what the devil would really be all the time:
    “…he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance… Just a tiny bit.”

  • laylagalise

    Albert Brooks owns every one of his scenes in this movie. That scene after he fails at being an anchor is just perfect. The scene where he’s sitting at home singing that French songs, drinking, and calling Jane is fabulous, too. And the flop sweat scene is comedic gold. One of my favorite performances is any movie.

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