Revelations about and because of James L. Brooks’ ‘Broadcast News’

First things first – so sorry I have been MIA over the last month! The movie watching has not stopped (if it had you know something would have to be SERIOUSLY wrong). I have been watching ’em and making my list of movies to discuss and over the next several weeks, I’m finally going to get to it!

Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about the brilliant, hilarious and extremely relevant film Broadcast News. This was a movie I had seen several years ago, as a young teenager. Although I remember liking the film a lot, this second viewing at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival, was surprising. Some films just have to be seen as an older person to be appreciated and I think Broadcast News is definitely one of them.

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TBH…their conversation was straight-up hilarious. 

Prolific producer/writer/director James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News follows Jane Craig (Holly Hunter), a quickly rising tv news producer. She’s smart as a whip and literally thinks twelve steps ahead of everyone else around her. Her best friend is the hilarious, smart and IMHO very cute Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). He’s one-hundred percent in love with Jane, something you can see five minutes into watching their relationship. A new anchor, Tom Grunick (William Hurt) comes onto the scene, pulling both at Jane’s heartstrings and encroaching on Aaron’s professional territory. In other words…DRAMA ENSUESSSSSSS.

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Burrrrrrrn. Really, though. I told you there’d be some drama. 

Here are just a few reasons Broadcast News is a movie you honestly should’ve put on your rundown (bad news pun)…like years ago!

The Cast

As I’ve said a bajillion times on this blog, casting is so important to how a movie turns out. If you cast people that are fun and relatable and just plain entertaining to watch, the characters can grow beyond just some lines of dialogue on a piece of paper. This film is a classic example of quite honestly, perfect casting.

One of the revelations from the TCM fest panel with James L. Brooks and Albert Brooks (no relation, guys, I swear) was that Holly Hunter was cast at the last minute and another unnamed actress almost got the part. Hunter was a virtual unknown at the time. She had just filmed Raising Arizona, a film which was only released a few months before Broadcast News. Hunter is the true anchor of the film, a confusing choice of words because she plays the executive producer of the news show in the film.

As a young woman, I find her portrayal of Jane to be so relatable. She’s so human and so complicated and filled with contradictions and you could never watch her and feel disconnected to her struggles.

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#RealTalk…I cry at least once a day.

Albert Brooks is so completely underrated. In the Q&A between Albert Brooks and James L. Brooks which was helmed by Ben Mankiewicz, Albert said he felt that Jane was never going to ultimately get with Aaron. Watching the film again, which was after the Q&A, I was like outrageously angry at Jane. If you were Jane, WHY WOULDN’T YOU GET WITH AARON? I mean, he’s intelligent, he’s funny, he’s self deprecating. He’s cute and a good person. I mean, come on, really though! I think this really goes to the heart of two arguments for me: one is attraction is about MORE than looks. The other is that I’m tired of movies never letting the actual good guy, the “underdog” get the girl. I mean, this is another Pretty in Pink scenario, guys. She belonged with Duckie, not that rich asshole.

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I flinch every time I watch this scene…

Whew, thanks for letting me get out, y’all. Back to Albert Brooks being awesome. He, separate from his character, is smart and literally hilarious. If you need some proof, just watch this clip from The Tonight Show back in the 70’s.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – I just wrote a literal lovefest about Albert Brooks. How am I possibly going to sing William Hurt’s praises too? Well, you’re about to find out. I do understand Jane’s attraction to Hurt’s Tom Grunick. Grunick is charming and obviously adorable. And, the thing is, Hurt is extremely intelligent so his portrayal of a dunce is actually quite funny. He’s also a fantastic actor who was already an Academy Award winner at the time they filmed Broadcast News.

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He’s a little freaked out…but his hair looks amazing!

The supporting players are also fantastic – Robert Prosky, a wonderful character actor plays the head of the news division. Jack Nicholson plays Bill Rorish, the top news anchor with an ego, quite a stretch for Nicholson! Cough, cough.

The real supporting MVP of the film though is one Joan Cusack. I’ve heard people refer to her as John Cusack’s sister which, is, of course, true but also infuriating. Do you think people refer to John Cusack as Joan Cusack’s brother? I think not! Okay, now I’m getting off topic. The upshot of it is she is a star in her own right and she is fantastic in this film. For real though, she delivers my favorite line in the film which she says to Holly Hunter’s Jane in tears: “Except for socially, you’re my role model.” Laugh-cry are the only words that can describe that moment.

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JOAN CUSACK IS EVERYTHING. 

The Script

Beyond the cast, the other essential piece of this film is the script. It is so wildly funny while also being relatable, relevant and moving. James L. Brooks wrote this as a romantic comedy which kind of cracks me up considering how the film ends.

Still, what movie being made today covers the same ground as Broadcast News? It’s essentially about people, but it’s also about the current (at the time obvi) state of television news, the ethics in telling a story, the moral obligation to be truthful. In this way, it’s an obvious precursor to Sorkin’s The Newsroom. His characters, too, are very preoccupied with the ethics of being a news reporter.

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Hmmm…I don’t know about that. #Rationalization

I especially liked the focus on the three main characters since they were all so different, but still human and likable.

Tom is the handsome idiot, except he isn’t. Tom has a skill set that both Aaron and Jane are missing. He knows how to present information in a trustworthy, confident way.

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Even his hair is trustworthy…lol

Jane is a career girl and I think the real reason she struggles socially is not because she’s incapable, but because she believes the only way to excel in her career is to block out everything else.

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Lesson learned: DO NOT MESS WITH HOLLY HUNTER

Aaron, on the other hand, is intensely smart but also neurotic, which is what ultimately is blocking him. He can’t stop thinking for a minute…which of course, I don’t relate to at all.

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The FUNNIEST scene in the movie, but it’s also a bit hard to watch. 

The Romance

As you all know from reading my movie musings, I’m a fan of the romance. Whether the romance is a fan of me is another story…lol. But, seriously, the romance in this film is wonderful because like some of my other all time favorites, this film covers mature romantic struggles.

With Aaron and Jane, we are presented with one of the most used stereotypes from romcoms: the best friend who’s in love with the main character. I think they both want to love each other in that way, but the timing gets in the way. Jane’s not ready to let someone in while Aaron is more than ready.

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That flinch THO. #RealityBites

 

And then Tom enters their lives and catches Jane’s attention. He’s attractive and confident and interested…and they do actually feel real things for each other. But, again, Jane lets her walls get in the way, because, timing-wise, she’s just not ready.

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He’s so TALL.

I think this is something not generally discussed in romantic films, the idea of not being ready for someone when they come into your life. There’s a reality there, so much so that when you see these three characters meet each other again at the end of the film, it doesn’t feel forced.

Because it’s still relevant, absolutely hilarious, and filled with brilliant dialogue and fantastic performances!

If you’ve never seen Broadcast News, you need to watch ASAP. If you have seen it, I guarantee it warrants another look, if only to realize just how much you relate to Holly Hunter’s character…or maybe that’s just me. I don’t think so…lol.

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Vintage trailer below:

Gifs property of Twentieth Century Fox.

The Charms and Flaws of ‘Tuck Everlasting’

One day in the 4th grade, while in my elementary school discovery club (which is really just a fancy word for day care), I found a worn out copy of Tuck Everlasting on their book shelf. At nine years old, I had already become a bit of a reader. But, Tuck Everlasting, written by Natalie Babbitt, was the book that me fall in love with reading.

For those not in the know, Tuck Everlasting, which takes place in the late 19th century (in the film the early 20th), follows Winifred (Winnie) Foster, a ten-year old girl who upon running away meets a family that is immortal. Her life is so rigid that she can’t help but fall in love with the slower way the Tucks live their lives. At its heart though, the book is about death and the fear we all have surrounding the idea.

In fact, Natalie Babbitt recently discussed what influenced her to write the novel, saying “One day she [her daughter] had trouble sleeping, woke up crying from a nap. And we looked into it together, as well as you can with a 4-year-old, and she was very scared with the idea of dying. And it seemed to me that that was the kind of thing you could be scared of for the rest of your life. And so I wanted to make sure that she would understand what it was more. And it seemed to me that I could write a story about how it’s something that everybody has to do and it’s not a bad thing” (Babbitt, NPR). To listen to her full interview, click here.

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The Original 1975 Cover

Since the book was just adapted into a Broadway musical, I thought this would be the perfect time to re-examine the film adaptation from 2002. The film meant a lot to me at the time. I was just about ten years old when the film was released. Looking bad on it, the film is not without flaws, but despite its imperfections, I still love it.

Here are just a few reasons Tuck Everlasting is worth a watch:

The Cast

Truly, this is one of the film’s greatest strengths. Alexis Bledel was still at the beginning of her years playing her most famous role: Rory Gilmore on the WB dramedy, Gilmore Girls. She was twenty-one when she stepped into the role of Winnie Foster. The late Edward Herrmann who played the patriarch of the Gilmore family said of Alexis: “[She’s] like Audrey Hepburn. The camera absolutely adores [her]. [She] can’t say anything wrong, [she] can’t do anything wrong. It’s a gift” (Herrmann, AV Club Interview).

She was perfect for the role because she had an intrinsic childlike innocence. Obviously, Winnie was ten in the book, but for the purposes of the film, they made her fifteen and added a love story.

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Those flower crown things are still modern, no?

Jonathan Jackson, who’s now known as Avery Barkley on ABC’s Nashville was cast opposite Alexis as Jesse Tuck. He was about twenty and not very well-known. As Jesse, he’s charming and energetic. You can’t help but fall for him just as Winnie does.

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If there was a deer that close to me, I’d probably be screaming.

The real weight of the cast is in its strong supporting cast. William Hurt and Sissy Spacek play Angus and Mae Tuck with strength and sensitivity. They both, of course, had already had massively successful film careers. Thus, they took a back seat in this film and let the story shine.

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Love this scene…

Ben Kingsley played the villain of the tale, The Man in the Yellow Suit. I remember some of my first impressions after my first viewing of the film and one of them was pure terror of Ben Kingsley’s character. There’s a scene where he’s talking to a Priest in a graveyard that still sends a chill down my spine.

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TUCK EVERLASTING, Ben Kingsley, Victor Garber, Amy Irving, 2002, (c) Walt Disney

Additionally, Amy Irving and Victor Garber are wonderful as Winnie’s parents. Irving especially affected me when I first saw the film. When her own mother is dying and she climbs into bed with her, I can’t help but tear up.

The Story

The material is what makes this film worthwhile. While the film is a bit Disney-fied in retrospect, the story is told in a restrained, yet sensitive way. At the age I first read the book and saw the movie,  I had a lot of fear surrounding the idea of death. I remember having nightmares about it and while I’m still not comfortable with it (who is??), this story did comfort me and help me come to terms with the concept of death.

Obviously, the film, for commercial reasons, added a teenage love story. While I understand the filmmakers and studio’s thought process, that may be the major flaw of the film. The original story was not meant to be a teen romance. It was a small tale which posed the question: Does it pay to live forever if you’re not really living?

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#RealTalk

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been exposed to many more films and obviously, learned a lot about the history of film. When re-examining this film, I couldn’t help but think of Producer Irving Thalberg. He famously became the head of Universal at the age of twenty and was nicknamed “the boy wonder.” Irving was born with a heart condition and was told he would not live past the age of thirty. Thus, there was an urgency in his life. He knew he would not live a long time and was determined to make the most of it.

This is a theme that always fascinates me: how people react in knowing that their deaths are imminent. Some films that come to mind are Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach and Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go, two films which I’m sure to cover sometime in the future.

The Romance

Even though this didn’t exist in the book really, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. It’s a bit saccharine, yes, but it’s also charming. I like romance. Sue me.

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Remember when he laughed at her thinking she might drown? #Jerk
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I would have been telling him to slow down…
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Overdramatic? A bit. #IStillLoveIt

 

The Score

Maybe it’s because music is so attached to our memories, but I can’t help but melt at Tuck Everlasting’s score composed by William Ross. It evokes a little Titanic magic, which makes sense, considering Ross was an arranger for the film.

It’s universal and thought-provoking.

So much of the time, children’s films condescend. They usually don’t dare to discuss real issues, although the recent Pixar film Inside Out did an excellent job in talking about depression.

Tuck Everlasting was not a bomb by any means, but it also wasn’t a big box office success. So, now, it seems the film has been relegated to almost obscurity. For all its flaws, it’s a film which attempts to explain death to children with sensitivity and charm. For me, it will always hold a nostalgia factor so I know I’m biased. However, even if this is not something you would usually watch, I urge you to give it a chance, if only to hear Natalie Babbitt’s beautiful words.

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Vintage trailer below:

P.S. – Here’s a song from the Broadway show which just closed on Broadway. For the purposes of the show, they went to the story’s roots and let Winnie be a ten year-old girl. Young Sarah Charles Lewis is pretty talented, no?