Personal and professional tensions collide in Broadcast News

Personal and professional tensions collide in Broadcast News

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Internship inspires us to reflect on some of our favorite workplace comedies.

Broadcast News (1987)
James L. Brooks’ funniest and most incisive portrait of people attempting to navigate personal and professional lines, Broadcast News also remains a prescient snapshot of the future of TV news and, specifically, the dwindling prominence of legitimate reporting in the face of escalating infotainment (“Flash over substance,” as Albert Brooks’ reporter puts it). It’s a point that, though a tad too bluntly articulated at the outset, is handled deftly via the story of Holly Hunter’s television producer and her relationship with both her best friend (Brooks) and William Hurt’s airhead, wannabe-anchor. It’s a triangle in which Hunter is the moral center on the side of two competing trends, one waning (Brooks’ serious journalism) and one waxing (Hurt’s popular superficiality). Brooks’ tale is rife with intersecting personal and professional ethical dilemmas: whether it’s acceptable to fluff the news, to abandon principles for happiness, to compromise romance for friendship, and to prize love over career. All these issues are given vital life by the film’s leads, whose performances (Hunter’s anxiety, Hurt’s ditziness, Brooks’ sarcasm) clash eloquently, and more importantly, prove more complex the more their characters’ lives intertwine.

Brooks melds romance and work with agility in the film’s finest sequence, which finds Hunter coaching Hurt through his maiden anchor gig via earpiece, with the director linking the two through a beautiful pan and close-up that’s almost, but not quite, ruined by Hurt explicating the moment’s symbolism by saying it was “like great sex.” Similarly, the filmmaker’s race-through-the-newsroom scene has a slapstick dynamism that captures the milieu’s omnipresent competitiveness and budget-cut unease, as well as the arrogance of the on-air talent (courtesy of Jack Nicholson’s spot-on cameo). Bill Conti’s piano score is pretty awful and Brooks’ sitcom tendencies are sometimes a bit too overbearing. Still, his and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus’ visual framing expertly demarcates relationships, and his finale proves surprisingly nuanced, illustrating how the choice between ethics and love is never really an either/or, given that the latter—predicated on respect of values—can’t exist if one doesn’t hold true to the former.

Availability: Criterion DVD and Blu-ray, rental and purchase from the major digital providers, and disc delivery from Netflix.

More Watch This