Saturday 13 July 2019

1,001 Films: "Broadcast News" (1987)

Was Broadcast News the last hurrah for truly grown-up, sophisticated movie comedy in Hollywood? One of the ten best American screenplays of the 1980s establishes a love triangle between a trio of misfits charged with bringing the news to us each night: brilliant but neurotic, pathologically unhappy producer Holly Hunter (terrific: operating at 200mph, and the closest the movies had had to a Hepburn for decades), and her two favourite reporters, slick but intellectually insecure William Hurt and funny but schlubby Albert Brooks. In 1987 - the year of Wall Street - it must have been radical to see high-flying professionals with real doubts, yuppies with humanity, passionate believers doing what they do for love, not money. Writer-director James L. Brooks gave us a rare, entirely unpredictable romance - every corner of this triangle has their attractions and flaws; even Hurt's significant other is characterised with some sympathy - eyefuls of the behind-the-scenes wrangling that goes into live news, and dialogue that probably should be quoted more than it is. 

Brilliantly, Hunter's personal decision is made for her by a colleague's professional lapse: underpinning Brooks's writing here is a genuine distaste for the way news was already being turned into an entertainment, a theme that was to sustain several seasons of The Daily Show going into the current century. After this, Brooks was to venture into movies only occasionally, with more failure (I'll Do Anything, Spanglish) than success (As Good As It Gets), becoming more significant as the producer who helped Matt Groening bring The Simpsons to the screen. Hurt and Hunter were bound for more dramatic material, and while Brooks, A. took up the torch for this particular type of comedy (in 1996's Mother and 2005's Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World), as would others (Ron Howard with 1994's The Paper, Ron Underwood with the same year's Speechless), everybody was soon to find that the Farrellys, and less talented jackasses, had run off with their audience; only Aaron Sorkin would pick up the thread, and then on TV (The West Wing, Studio 60, The Newsroom).

Broadcast News is available on DVD through Fox.

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