Broadcast News

Broadcast News ★★★★


Adored this without reservation in '87 (when I was all of 19), now have deeply conflicted feelings that are encapsulated rather well by an exchange toward the end, when Jane informs Tom that she won't be joining him in the Bahamas or wherever they were headed because she's discovered that he faked his tearful reaction during an interview.

Tom: We disagree on how godawful it was. Why don't you come with me, we'll disagree and we'll get a tan at the same time.

Jane: Jesus if you're gonna be glib about this I'm gonna lose it!

James L. Brooks spent decades in the sitcom world, and he's gonna be glib about pretty much everything; while I didn't lose it, I did wince a lot. Right from the jump, in fact—there are some decent jokes in the childhood prologue, but it's mostly cute for cute's sake, setting a slightly pandering tone that the film never quite shakes off even as the characters' emotions gradually deepen. We get cartoonish exaggeration (literally the entire audience walking out in the middle of Jane's speech; Aaron's flop-sweat nightmare), punchy exit lines ("I hated the way you talked to me just now. And it wasn't just because you were right"), cheap shots like Tom struggling to remember an address mere seconds after hearing it (which has nothing to do with intelligence). Knew my previous high opinion of Broadcast News was in serious jeopardy during the mad scramble to finish the "homecoming" segment—a sequence I'd always loved. Still do love parts of it ("Bobby Bobby Bobby Bobby Bobby Bobby Bobby Bobby"), but this time I found myself wishing Brooks hadn't tried so damn hard to entertain, what with Joan Cusack sliding beneath a file cabinet drawer and leaping over a toddler and slamming into a water fountain and finally delivering the tape at the exact second that it's needed. A less frantic depiction of down-to-the-wire drama wouldn't have been as funny or crowdpleasing, but sacrificing those laughs would have helped create a foundation of verisimilitude, and that foundation would have supported genuine thorniness. As it is, Brooks has so much difficulty reconciling the film's warring sensibilities that he never figured out how to end the thing, tacking on a seven-years-later epilogue so useless that it amounts to simply giving up. (Forget what I said above about having once loved Broadcast News "without reservation"—the ending was always a disappointment.)

On the flip side, "We'll disagree and get a tan at the same time" is a truly great line. And the film is jam-packed with truly great lines, most of them delivered by three actors arguably doing the very finest work of their respective lengthy careers (though they all wound up happy just to be nominated at that year's Oscars). I wrote a Scenic Routes column a few years ago praising Hurt's remarkably nuanced portrait of someone with roughly an 85 IQ, and could easily have written another column each on Hunter (a total revelation in this role, especially for those of us who'd seen her for the first time just months earlier in Raising Arizona) and Albert Brooks (who handles Aaron's fits of self-pity so adroitly that I still can't believe how few serious acting offers he subsequently got—more than a decade went by before Soderbergh cast him in Out of Sight). Brooks' general indifference to composition aside, it's primarily the film's first hour that feels sitcom-y; the Libya special report establishes a more intimate rhythm, placing Jane in Tom's ear and then Aaron in Jane's, and by the time we get to the big Jane-Aaron blowup, the verbal barbs are genuinely starting to hook flesh. It helps enormously that there's a corresponding shift in Tom's favor around that time—an acknowledgement that he possesses valuable skills of his own, even if they seem frivolous to people who traffic in politics rather than packaging. Plus I now recognize that Aaron's kind of a jerk, humiliating Tom for sport and repeatedly declaring himself to Jane with no consideration for how uncomfortable that might make her feel. (Ironically, he's a more realistic version of an Albert Brooks character.) By the end, the movie had won me over again. Apart from the actual ending, which is still a waste of collective days of humanity's time.

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