Holly Hunter is a fierce television news director. Albert Brooks is a crackerjack TV reporter. And William Hurt is an underachiever who just happens to be handsome enough to be a star news anchorman. It would have been easy to make this character a Ted Baxter WJM Mary Tyler Moore buffoon with an inflated ego and nothing at all going on between his ears. His saving grace is that he realizes he’s not that brilliant. So we get a love triangle. Brooks is madly, sadly in love with Hunter and she, very much against her better judgement, has fallen hard for Hurt. Albert Brooks is so, so good at playing really smart guys who just can’t seem to fit in socially. He’s at his best here, with an extremely well-written, smart part to play.
It was written, produced, and directed by James L. Brooks. (No relation; Albert Brooks’ birth name is Albert Einstein. You can’t make this shit up!) (You want more? His brother is Bob Einstein, better known as Super Dave Osborne, the world’s worst stunt man.) (Even more? Their father was a radio comedian known as Parkyakarkas, who died onstage during a comedy roast for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.) (And now, back to the review.) James L. Brooks was the creator of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant, Rhoda, Taxi, and The Simpsons. As if that weren’t enough, he won no less than three Oscars for Terms of Endearment. So you know the dude can seriously write.
It is very sad to look at this movie today. It is still as well-written and directed and well-acted as it ever was. But the world has moved on, and the things that concern us, the moral problems of news reporting in the 20th century, are sadly very outdated. Things are much, much worse than anyone ever imagined when a big bone of contention between the needs of the TV shot and the means of getting it revolve around Hurt taking a moment to manufacture a phony tear running down his cheek. To Hunter, a producer who won’t even allow her camera team to ask a guerilla fighter in Nicaragua to put on his boots, this is a total scandal. To management, it’s … eh, no big deal. These days, of course, anything goes. The reporters are the stars, and a large percentage of their so-called reporting is a bunch of them sitting around and asking each other questions, and then answering them as if they know something. Trump rants about the major media being “fake news.” It’s not so much that, as that so much of the news these days is about the news. They work each other in a continual circle jerk. Edward R. Murrow and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite would weep to see it. But P.T. Barnum would be pleased.