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Film: Broadcast News

Tom: You're an amazing woman. What a feeling, having you inside my head.
Jane: Yeah, it was an unusual place to be.
Tom: It's, like, indescribable. You knew just when to feed me the next line the second before I needed it. There was a rhythm we got into. It was like great sex.

A 1987 drama-comedy written, directed, and produced by James L. Brooks. It tells the tale of three newspeople who get tangled in a Love Triangle. At one vertex, producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) leads her life in chronic emotional meltdown because of her obsessive-compulsive character. She's sexually attracted to but professionally repulsed by Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a simple reporter who landed his job solely on good looks and charisma. He only survives on live TV because Jane feeds him everything he needs to say through an earpiece. Meanwhile, the brilliant Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) dreams of reporting evening news but his un-telegenic looks hold him back both from his ambitions and his crush on Jane.

All three share a slavish devotion to their work, even Tom, ever aware of his low intelligence, wishes to someday cover a story without Jane's help. As Roger Ebert describes: "After Hunter whispers into Hurt's earpiece to talk him through a crucial live report on a Middle East crisis, he kneels at her feet and says it was like sex, having her voice inside his head. He never gets that excited about sex. Neither does she." Indeed, it's only because their romance gets tied up in the workplace's questions of journalistic standards and integrity that Jane, Tom, and Aaron's Love Triangle gets tenser and tenser.

Watching this character knot unravel is exciting due to both strong performances by the lead actors and an excellent screenplay by James L. Brooks. He frequently shifts from comedy to drama but his dialogue always shimmers: it's hard not to laugh at Jane and Tom's good-natured flirting on the one hand, while when Aaron presses Tom on his ignorance of basic world affairs the discomfort hangs like a dagger in the air. Broadcast News kept low profile but was universally praised by critics, getting four stars from Roger Ebert and fifth place in Gene Siskel's favorite films of 1987.

Tropes:

  • An Aesop: The film is a searing indictment of declining news reporting standards. Over 20 years later, it looks more prescient than ever.
    (on faking tears for a news item)
    Jane: You can get fired for things like that.
    Tom: I've been promoted for things like that.
  • Book Ends: The film begins with vignettes of the three main characters in childhood, and ends with them seven years after the events of the movie (Although they do not look appreciably aged in that scene).
  • Date Rape: One of the centerpiece stories is Hurt's report on date rape. He interviews a woman who shares her experience, and at least on camera is so moved that he begins to cry. Hunter sees the report and senses that Hurt's emotions aren't all what they seem to be.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Aaron, in spades.
    Aaron: Can you believe it? I just risked my life for a network that tests my face with focus groups. (beat) I don't feel good.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: No one in the movie winds up with anyone. Seven years later and Jane is in a serious relationship with someone else, Aaron is married to someone else, and Tom is engaged to someone else. And yet it doesn't seem like it was intended to be depressing.
  • Distant Finale: The last scene is set seven years after the end of the narrative.
  • Doing It for the Art: Jack Nicholson specifically requested that he not be in the trailer, the opening credits or promoted because he did not want to take attention away from Hunter, Hurt and Brooks.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Aaron
  • I Resemble That Remark / Worthy Opponent: Subverted, slightly.
    Tom: I'm going to miss you... you're a prick in a good way... I'm sorry.
    Aaron: No, I liked how that made me sound.
  • Insufferable Genius: Aaron and Jane. Jane is aware of her pushiness, however.
    Jane: (sincerely) No. It's awful.
  • Jerkass: Tom, arguably, especially on multiple viewings.
    • Aaron too, more often than not. His response to Tom doing a report on date rape was to make a snarky comment about how Tom had "blown the lid off nookie"
    • Jane sends a romantic rival off to Alaska so she can get closer to Tom
  • Karma Houdini: Even after the other main characters discover it, Tom never suffers any negative consequences from manipulating a rape victim and orchestrating a piece to get himself promoted. Even Aaron and Jane seem pretty quick to pardon him.
  • Love Triangle: Between Jane, Tom, and Aaron.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: The first scenes show the three major characters as children.
    Young Tom: What can you do with yourself if all you do is look good?
  • Pull the Thread: Used by Aaron to get Tom to admit he doesn't know the members of the presidential cabinet.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: Tom advances in TV news on his looks despite never going to college and not knowing current events.
  • Shown Their Work: Writer/director James L. Brooks began his career working for CBS news; he did additional field research during the 1984 U.S. Presidential campaign, and in an interview with The Atlantic admitted he modeled Jane partially on CBS producer Susan Zirinsky. It's still one of the most true-to-life portrayals of life in the TV news industry.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Jack Nicholson.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Subverted the hell out of. Tom knows he's coasting on his appearance. He still knows all of the tricks that Aaron doesn't know.
  • Smug Snake: Bill Rorich.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Tom in a rare male example. As a child he resents being hit on by the waitresses in a restaurant.
    Young Tom: I don't even know what they mean - "Beat them off with a stick"?
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Tom pretended to cry just so that they could film his reaction and be praised for his emotional interview with a rape victim.
    Jane: It made me... ILL.

Breaking AwayCreator/ 20 th Century FoxBuffy the Vampire Slayer
Brief EncounterCreator/The Criterion CollectionThe Burmese Harp
The Brave Little ToasterFilms of the 1980sCan't Buy Me Love
The Last EmperorAcademy AwardFatal Attraction

alternative title(s): Broadcast News
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