Published on June 26th, 2020 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Why “Broadcast News” Is My Favorite Movie
Sometimes a movie is just so perfect, a person can’t even comprehend it. For Noah, Broadcast News is more than just a movie. It’s real life.
“It must be nice to always believe you know better…To always think you’re the smartest person in the room….”
“No, it’s awful.”
The following is just one of countless signature Jim Brooks lines that Broadcast News boasts. It comes at a point in which we’re still somewhat convinced that Jane (Holly Hunter) is not a completely conceded person. That line is the nail in the coffin. It’s the moment where a lesser film would make the protagonist stop and sober up after being delivered such a low blow. But Jane takes her boss’s rhetorical declaration literally. In that moment, it becomes clear that Jane is the star of her own movie and, well, if her multiple abrupt bouts of weeping have anything to say about it, she’s not exactly having the time of her life.
The premise is simple. Jane is a producer at a local news affiliate out of Washington D.C. She takes herself and her job very seriously. Jane reluctantly has the hots for Tom (William Hurt), the sexy new anchor who doesn’t know a thing about honest-to-God reporting and is basically the epitome of everything that terrifies her. He represents the eye-candy approach to television news that has begun to infect the integrity of her vocation. Meanwhile, her best friend Aaron (Albert Brooks), a field reporter, is stuck in the friendzone and has a sizeable chip on his shoulder over not being the sexy, charismatic anchor-with-primetime-written-all-over-him. It’s a love triangle that also manages to entangle itself with a smart and biting satire about the conundrum of journalism as an industry.
There’s something quite compelling about the idea of seeing a film like Broadcast News embody the worldview of a character so deeply idealistic that she comes off simultaneously brilliant and annoying. It’s also quite compelling to see how that idealism also makes her totally miserable. Films with such flawed characters, especially ones in which they are being romanced, are pretty rare. Conventional logic suggests that you need your audience to like your protagonist, to root for her. Well, that’s all true, but what James L. Brooks did with this flick is prove that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be perfect.
He takes his protagonist, along with just about every character in the film, and gives them blemishes. He has his characters go about their lives in whatever conceded, misguided, arrogant, selfish ways they can and just simply plays it straight. When Jane neglects to recognize her ego, the film doesn’t call attention to it. When Aaron deliberately puts other down to prop up his feeble sense of self-esteem, the film doesn’t call attention to it. These are simply things that people do. And the world of Broadcast News, as exhilarating as it may be, simply feels like a real place where real people go to work every day.
Real people become attracted to other real people. Real people develop crushes on their best friends. Real people sabotage others to get ahead. Real people dance around their feelings because they’re scared and insecure. Real people don’t actually know what they want. Broadcast News is a Hollywood romcom about real people. Perhaps even the last of that rare breed.
Keep in mind, this is two years before Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm at Katz’s Famous Deli in New York City. After Harry met Sally, the romcom changed. Nora Ephron sprinkled her magical pixie movie dust on the sub-genre, and out came a plethora of generic, sappy movies about overly attractive and likeable people falling in love (I’m not putting down Nora Ephron; I think her films rise above genericism. But it’s undeniable she unleashed a beast of bland, uninteresting perfection). Broadcast News manages to be so refreshingly different, especially looking back on the film 33 years later. It’s not a love story. It’s a story about love. Or whatever people think love is. It’s about how love and sex get all tangled up. It’s about how attraction doesn’t make sense. And whether its worthwhile to place being attracted to somebody over respecting somebody. It’s about everything that “love” in the bullshit Hollywood sense of the word is not.
So it’s incredibly relatable, but it’s also unconventional. To the point where it makes you question whether the established conventions were ever even that relatable in the first place. This comes through the most clearly in the ending, which I won’t spoil. But let’s just say that it doesn’t end with a kiss and a walk off into the sunset. Real people don’t kiss and walk off into the sunset. Real people are too anxious, too self-conscious, too impetuous to let that happen. Yet, it isn’t an unsatisfying ending, a fuck you to the audience. I would say the ending is rather happy. But that’s not because the guy gets the girl. It’s because the film answers its own philosophical questions with grace and optimism. And when it shrugs and says, “Hey, that’s life,” it makes you smile because you believe it.
And let’s not forget what it has to say about journalism. The film never loses sight of that strange paradox that was and still is television news. The term sounds almost like an oxymoron. A decade after Network, Broadcast News takes a far less fiery and unforgiving take on the state of the journalism industry. But it certainly does provoke serious reflection about how we receive our news, and how it is constructed to be convincing. Jane treats her craft like an artform; a scene early in the film involves her stubbornly insisting on inserting a match cut of a soldier with a Norman Rockwell painting for emotional effect as the broadcast is going on live. The tension briefly cranks to 11 as she just gets the piece in at the last second. Brooks is making a film about journalists, but more importantly, he’s making a film about what it is to love your job, to define yourself by your job. And the brilliance of Broadcast News is that it takes place in a setting in which the characters’ work is ultimately at the mercy of a network that values entertainment over integrity.
This might just be my favorite movie of all time. It checks off all the boxes not only of quality, but also of re-watchability. It’s truly one of the most quotable movies in the world, managing to balance its humor with the cleverness it so lavishly seeks to perform. Brooks’ films always lean into a very movie-like sense of pithiness. But here, that pithiness feels so natural and so endlessly surprisingly because it’s all in character, and every classic Brooks-ism feels like its coming from Jane or Aaron or Tom and not from Brooks himself (a flaw some of his other films can be nailed for).
It’s also rewatchable for the very breadth of its narrative–its looseness that gives way to a kind of fluid, yet episodic approach. It makes the setting a character unto itself. It wraps up the expansive feeling of a TV series into 140 minutes. It feels so real, and forges such strong relationships with the characters that, by the end, you’ll feel like you’ve lived a year in their shoes. And the story itself feels so fresh every time you revisit it because it is baked into the very dimensions of the setting. The two are kind of inseparable. It’s kind of plotless while being very plot driven at the same time.
I firmly believe that Holly Hunter should’ve had the career that Julia Roberts ended up having. She’s so fantastic at being cute and sweet one minute and then being a total firecracker another. I always find her to be a delight in everything. Maybe she didn’t want to be Julia Roberts; who knows. But her career never totally blossomed the way you’d expect after seeing her performance in Broadcast News. It has all the tell-tale signs of a superstar-making performance. And the film was quite successful both commercially and critically. It was nominated for 7 Academy Awards, albeit winning none. So why people didn’t just go crazy for her after this, I’ll never know. I wasn’t around in ‘80s, so maybe I’m just totally off-base on this.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen Broadcast News, do yourself a favor and check it out. The Criterion Collection recently released a gorgeous new edition of it. Or just torrent it or whatever, I don’t care. Hell, I’ll lend you my mom’s VHS tape of it if you want. Just see it. Because it just feels like a movie that’s impossible not to fall in love with. It sweeps you off your feet with its romanticism, even though it doesn’t exactly end up being all that romantic. But there’s just something so goddamn sexy about it. Because it’s just…real. Like the tagline says:
“It’s the story of their lives.”