Less of a review, more of a reflection.
Broadcast News, dir. James L. Brooks (1987)
Probably few of you remember this irritable writer complaining that The Criterion Collection had opted to release James L. Brooks’ 1987 Broadcast News instead of putting out “more Godard.” It seemed like a fair pronouncement at the time, one that few people would disagree with. Then I saw Broadcast News. The movie bears a lot of similarities to one of its male leads, the handsome yet moronic news anchor Tom Grunik (played by William Hurt in his inimitable lazy drawl). It’s an incredibly good-looking picture; one you’re not sure has a lot of depth, yet somehow irresistible all the same.
I reacted in a manner that I doubt would surprise James L. Brooks. Much like the other male lead, Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), I was bitter. Why does this movie get all the credit, for being charming and good-looking despite its obvious brainlessness? Meanwhile I’m slaving away thinking of all the different ways this movie is so stupid and no one cares about little old me. And you people love it! I’ll never forgive you for that! This is basically Altman’s reaction to his best friend Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) when she admits she has feelings for Tom. And it’s a bad one.
As the movie goes on, though, it becomes apparent that Tom Grunik has been playing everyone all along. He gets the big promotion, snags the best producer, snakes along to lead anchor. It’s been hard to notice, mostly because he’s managed to play dumb so well. But towards the end of the film, when his nemesis Aaron Altman’s perpetual cycle of self-pity has reached its apex, it becomes impossible not to realize that whatever authority was granted by his intelligence has been squandered by his unwillingness to do anything other than whine charmlessly.
For Broadcast News this realization has two meanings. First, it means that Broadcast News is vaguely enjoyable for the way in which it helps us to see that entitled people, no matter how deserving they may be, ultimately cannot escape being obnoxious (and thusly wholly unappealing, if not outright wrong). It’s like the experience of watching High Fidelity for the first time since you were 15: you realize John Cusack is really just an asshole. And I thank it for that. Second — and slightly more profound for me — is the realization the film offers for everyone who dislikes it but sits through it. Sure, James L. Brooks says, you may be half-heartedly mocking my film. But at the end of the day you’re still watching it along with everyone else and your cynicism has done nothing to encourage films you think people should be watching instead of Broadcast News. Your cynicism hasn’t even turned this DVD off.
By the time I finished watching Broadcast News I had kind of grown to like it. Holly Hunter is incredible and the film has a pleasant late 1980s Washington, D.C. look to it — think fat ties, boxy cars, concrete buildings. I had learned to take it less seriously, and in some sense I admired it. As a film, it certainly doesn’t realize the full aesthetic potential of its medium. What it managed to do, though, was illustrate how completely irritating it is to grouse. It showed me that at the end of the day there’s nothing charming about being upset all the time — both inside the film and out. That, somehow, made it more than worth my watching it.