One of the great films of the ’80s and indeed, one of the finest romantic comedies ever made, Broadcast News has often had the misfortune of being overlooked and underappreciated, just like its writer and director, James L. Brooks. Sure, Brooks is responsible for his share of stinkers, including recent non-starter How Do You Know, but lest one forget, Brooks is a supreme director of actors, a writer simultaneously gentle and acerbic, and a sharp-minded producer responsible for successes on the big screen and small.
All of these qualities coalesce in Brooks’s greatest achievement, Broadcast News, which was nominated for seven Oscars and seemingly promptly forgotten after it failed to win any of them. You won’t find the film on any great movies lists (at least, none I’m aware of) and even in a discussion of Brooks (who has only directed six films as of this review), you’re more likely to hear about Terms of Endearment or As Good as it Gets.
I would have never expected the folks at the Criterion Collection to release the film, but I’m overjoyed that they have. In my mind, it’s as significant a release for the company as its upcoming box set of rare Mikio Naruse silents. Sure, Broadcast News has been readily available in this country since its release, but Criterion’s edition adds insightful supplements, reveals the attractive photography the previous edition didn’t and provides what one hopes is the impetus for a new wave of recognition for the film.
Broadcast News stars Holly Hunter as ambitious news producer Jane Craig. Along with brilliant-but-insecure reporter Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), Jane pushes their Washington, D.C. network affiliate for hard-charging stories, but the climate is changing — personified by the handsome but incompetent Tom Grunick (William Hurt), who succeeds almost in spite of himself. His good looks and smooth delivery mark a sea change for the news industry, which is veering toward obsequious infotainment, much to the chagrin of Jane and Aaron.
But unlike Sydney Lumet’s Network, Broadcast News isn’t a wholecloth media satire, although Brooks’s observations about the industry are consistently on-point. The sharpest lines are saved for the romantic triangle that ensues between Jane, Tom and Aaron, a messy mix of emotions that’s fueled as much by the thrill of a fast-paced workplace as it is romantic inclination.
Albert Brooks’s Aaron wears his heart on his sleeve with regards to Jane, a close friend who he also wants to romance, even if we never really believe it could happen. Brooks is a master at communicating the futility and earnestness of his feelings, culminating in a beautiful short monologue where he wishes out loud that Jane could be two people — the woman he loves and the friend who he could confess that love to. Albert Brooks makes the James Brooks dialogue sparkle at every turn.