Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hunter Watch: Broadcast News (1987)

Who doesn't like Holly Hunter?  You?  To hell with you, then.

What a strange artifact of a movie.  This thing wouldn't make a ping on the cultural radar in 2015, but in 1987 it made, like, $50+ million, which was nothing to sneeze at back then and was lauded and honored.  It was nominated for, like, 10 Academy Awards, but seemingly won none of them.  You know what did win?  Harry and the Hendersons for make-up, and Innerspace for visual effects.  Makes you think.

And the entire credits last, like, 45 seconds because we didn't used to need 800 people making CGI coffee cups and digitally removing that one fly-away on Holly Hunters hair in one scene.

The 1980's were a weird time for movies.  I'm not sure if the kids today properly understand a world in which people's parents owned John Updike books whether they read them or not, divorce was a genteel activity for upper middle class white folks, people drank white wine un-selfconsciously, and there was a huge market for movies aimed at your parents to go see without their children, usually about people who read John Updike, drank white wine and got divorced in terribly civilized tones.

It all seems so impossible right now.

Broadcast News (1987) is a product of this era and so is both a joy and somewhat irritating to watch.  It's filled with quirky characters and their foibles, a workplace romance comedy about the upwardly mobile youngish employees of a Washington DC bureau of a major news network.

The movie, like many movies of this era/ genre, feels like it's 85% set-up, never really committing to any particular version of events or story.  It's these snips suggesting a progression of a story, of glimpses of quirky behavior, men telling the other that they're a "prick" as a compliment.  It's all as polite as a wine tasting in mixed company.

The genre and era was well-intentioned and gave 80's parents something to watch, giving us everything from network soap Thirtysomething (something I've never actually seen) to the excruciating art house darling Metropolitan, which may have signaled the end of the era in some ways.

Broadcast News is extremely fortunate to have three fantastic actors to carry the movie much further than maybe the story or script should have really deserved, all of whom are well regarded, well known but - oddly, not discussed due to a lack of hip factor, I guess.  Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt.  Hunter manages a character which certainly was familiar to 1980's audiences, the career-oriented woman balancing work versus romance - the anxiety of which can still be witnessed in many Cathy comic strip collections at better booksellers.  But Hunter's charm and take on the character keep the character from becoming annoying or cloying, even if - like all three characters - she feels a bit too distant to find entirely sympathetic.

Hunter plays a producer for the Washington Bureau, working seemingly seamlessly with Brooks' reporter character, an over-clocked over achiever who does a good job but can't learn when to zip his lip or remain cool under career pressure.  William Hurt, in handsome-blonde-man mode here, plays a dim, good-looking guy who may be terrible at news, but he's great at looking right reading the news, about 20 years ahead of Ron Burgundy on this one.

The movie is no Network, takes fair shots at network news, but can't really commit to being either about the news business or the somewhat tepid relationship triangle.  These kinds of stories of professionals in love seem pretty popular in retrospect, back when doing well in a profession was the deal rather than being famous and stupid and having a clothing line.

It may feel weird as an Oscar nominee to eyes in 2015, but this was also before the idea of "Oscar Bait" was entirely solidified, and it was more about movies being aimed at a certain kind of intellectual, effete or otherwise, when going to the cinema on a Saturday was a good night out.

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