Director Jon Avnet's UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL is a movie, a la
BROADCAST NEWS, about news anchors that want to be rising stars. It
starts off as a romantic comedy and evolves into a romantic drama. As
a comedy, it is superb with a bright script by Joan Didion and John
Gregory Dunne. As a romance, it partially works but with stars this
beautiful and charismatic, I would rate the romantic angle as a major
disappointment. Based on the trailers for the movie which makes the
drama look contrived and silly, I was surprised at how chillingly
effective the dramatic last quarter of the film is.
As the show starts, a famous Tally Atwater (Michelle Pfeiffer) is
delivering a speech reminding her fellow newscasters that, "What we in
the news business can never forget is that we are only as good as the
stories we tell." From there it flashes back to her story and how she
talked her way into the news business with a promo tape where she says
"I am Sally, and I going to be a star."
The only station news director that would hire her is Warren
Justice (Robert Redford) of WMIA in Miami. After making her do the
newsroom equivalent of months of cleaning the latrines, he finally lets
her have a crack in front of the camera doing the weather. He changes
her name dynamically to Tally during the broadcast since he decides
Tally is a better choice than Sally. Tally is a disaster doing the
weather, but Warren sees greatness in her since "she eats the lens," so
he gives her a job as a reporter.
I should point out that although the banter between the two of
them is funny, in reality he would be facing a multimillion dollar
sexual harassment lawsuit for what he says to her. Actually, the
relationship kept reminding me of Holly Hunter and William Hurt in
BROADCAST NEWS, but everything in BROADCAST NEWS was better which is
not surprising since I rated BROADCAST NEWS as the best movie of the
entire decade of the 1980s.
The news anchor at WMIA, Rob Sullivan (Scott Bryce), thinks he is
God's gift to women. He calls himself Uncle Rob to them, and Tally
loathes him. She even sprays her private space with perfume when he
leaves. Rob explains his news philosophy as, "some of the people in
this business get jaded because it's the same awful stories, and it is
the same awful stories. It just happens to different people."
Both of the leads are quite good at their parts and have great fun
making the movie. Pfeiffer gets to belt out her rendition of "To reach
the unreachable star" on the fifty yard line of an empty stadium while
Redford listens high up in the stands. Other than it would be fun to
do, there seems little purpose in including the scene in the final cut.
The movie is pure formula from the beginning to the highly
manipulative and telegraphed way in advance ending. After she becomes
a reporter, she rises to coanchor the news with "Uncle Rob". She hates
him, and in one of the funnier sequences, they have an on the air
verbal war. This happens while they are smiling ear-to-ear with the
credits rolling and the newsroom mikes muted. Later talking about Rob,
she tells Warren that, "he's so stupid!", to which Warren retorts,
"he's an anchorman."
Tally wants to be a comer so she enlists the help of superagent
Bucky Terranova (Joe Mantegna). Bucky tells her, "Your voice is full
of money." He moves her to Philadelphia which is a bigger media
market, but she has to compete with Marcia McGrath (Stockard Channing)
for the anchor slot, and Marcia thinks she is an old pro and an
upper-class intellectual while Tally is just a young kid from the
sticks who doesn't have a clue. Marcia tells Tally, "You get to be 42;
you know what it takes to jump off the high board." Later Marsha
admits that, gasp, she is actually 44.
There is a subplot of how Warren has gotten such a bad reputation
that no one will hire him. I found this part of the script more of a
diversion and only mildly interesting at that. Eventually, Pfeiffer
tells him that living with him is not good enough and that she wants to
get married. She explains, "I want you around in the morning." He
looks bewildered and replies, "You already have me around in the
morning. How, I have no idea." In the perfect retort line, she says,
"I want you legally to be required to be there." She does this
beautifully with her chin resting on her hands, and this is the only
time I found her love for him convincing.
Although you probably saw it in the trailers, I will not reveal
the drama that wraps up the film. Suffice it to say that it shows how
a remote television control booth can be a hotbed of excitement.
Redford is at his best in these scenes.
The ending of the show contains a tearjerker that probably tested
well, but is so easy to predict and so formulaic that I hated it.
There is one great scene toward the end of the show when, after hours,
she tries out the network newsdesk for the first time. She fondles the
marble desk and gives an expression of total rapture. Indeed, she has
come to the promised land.
One footnote. Alanna Nash's biography of Jessica Savitch titled
"Golden Girl" is listed as the "inspiration" for the movie. I read
that they were originally going to make the book into a movie but after
a dozen rewrites, they kept Savitch's blond hair, but nothing else from
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL runs a little long at 2:03. It is rated
PG-13 for a little bad language and a little violence. There is no sex
or nudity. Actually I would have preferred a little more romantic
action from the stars. Certainly their love making which consists of
little more than a few lame kisses is not convincing. I think the
movie as constructed would be fine for any kid over say 8, but I think
they might need to be a little older to be interested. I recommend
this funny show to you, and I give it ***.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes