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USA 1987
Directed by
James L Brooks
133 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Broadcast News

Looking at James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News today it is hard to believe that it was nominated for seven Oscars. Given that its predecessor, Brooks’1983 feature debut Terms of Endearment won five it is nearly as hard to believe that it won none.

One’s reservations are partly due to the film’s direly dateable production values with fashions that were regarded as très chic back then but looking cringe-inducingly laughable now (Bill Conti’s synthesizer score helping in this respect) and partly it is due to the televisual frame of reference (aided and abetted by the fact that its main location is a television studio) of attractive thirty-something Manhattan WASPs torn between an ethically-questionable career and commitment to more lasting values, like Friends without the double takes.

Holly Hunter plays Jane Craig, an up-and-coming news producer for the Washington bureau of a TV network. Her best buddy is seasoned reporter Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). When Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a sportscaster of limited talent but who looks good on camera is given the job of Washington news anchor Jane and Aaron have to decide whether they are willing to go along with changing times or stand their ground. That Aaron loves Jane and Jane loves Tom and Tom loves himself further complicates matters. 

Get past the padded shoulders, big hair, voluminous skirts hideous knitwear and so on, a host of sins embodied in Joan Cusack’s PA who looks like a cross between Boy George and the Bride of Frankenstein and there a couple of things that make the film watchable. One is the behind-the-scenes insight into what goes into making nightly news. Although this was in the days of videotape so there is much more physicality involved, the scene in which Jane and team race against the clock to get the news out is skillfully put together and a good deal of the white-knuckle tension probably still applies.

The other aspect that holds our interest is the love triangle. Although there is humour in his script Brooks eschews the standard rom-com tropes and gives us engaging characters whose relationships are thoughtfully and credibly developed. The three leads all give convincing performances although Hunter’s Southern twang is somewhat grating (as all three leads sound quite nasally this may be a function of the sound recording).   

If Broadcast News has dated aesthetically no doubt the moral issues raised are still active and in this respect it is a film still worthy of attention.

FYI:  For thematically-related, more straightforwardly satirical material see Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976).




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