Television 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?”
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.
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!”
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.)