Tuesday, May 24, 2016
No. It's awful.
Jane Craig (Holly Huter) is the sort of person who is not fulfilled unless there is some sort of crisis in progress. Some impossible dilemma to conquer. If one doesn't exist, she'd likely create one. So a network control room is a natural habitat for her. A place where disasters are constantly being averted, often by seconds. She lives for the rush and the well earned sigh of relief afterward. Probably more satisfying for her than....In fact, Tom (William Hurt) tells her that hearing her voice in his headset as she gives instructions as he delivers a newscast is like "great sex", so maybe he's one of those types, too.
Aaron (Albert Brooks) rounds out the main trio of 1987's BROADCAST NEWS. He's another of those types. Like Jane he's quick and quick witted. Loves the thrill and chaos and the constant threat of failure. And like many such behind the scenes wizards, he's underappreciated. Possibly because he doesn't have the "face", or the air of an on camera anchor, like Tom. Never mind that the handsome guy knows next to nothing about current events. That he resembles the "bubble headed bleach blond" Don Henley sang about. To the network, it's all about appearances. People tune in to see pretty faces and long legs. When I watch cable news these days, I wonder if each of them have a Jane or Aaron in their ears, telling them what to say seconds before.
Now Tom's naivete may be a bit of a stretch, that writer/director James L. Brooks' character is an exaggerated symbol for all that is wrong with news reporting. Maybe not. Some news people hold their own on the couch across from late night talk hosts, but others are not so sharp. This is true of many actors as well. Without a script, they're adrift. And the news is really just show business, no?
BROADCAST NEWS of course seems quite prescient what with what has developed since '87. But it wasn't difficult to see the handwriting on the wall. NETWORK had called it eleven years earlier. BROADCAST NEWS does not share the earlier film's seething point of view, rather a quieter, though still sardonically observant take on the business and the people who make it happen. Brooks' characters stand around and have mini debates about ethics, then willfully violate what conscience they still possess. Late in the film a character is accused of faking tears during an interview, to the outrage of Jane and others. But I'll bet it happens often. In fact, that character will later get a promotion!
There's no shortage of self awareness in BROADCAST NEWS. I especially like the blunt truths Brooks' characters utter. Whether it was Aurora to her daughter in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT ("you're not special enough....") or Jane with a boss, who similarly knocks his star journalist down a few pegs (and she agrees!), the dialogue may sound cold compared to many feel good rom-coms with similar plots, but it is realistic and a tonic to hear. Also, the characters sound like actual adults, rather than slang spewing overgrown adolescents. Ah, there was a time....
But BROADCAST NEWS is also, again, a love story, the classic triangle of one torn between two others. Jane resents Tom's character but still wants to hop in the sack with him. She feels guilty for her lack of attraction to Aaron, who is more on her level and quite funny. What is a girl to do?