`Broadcast News' - the year's suprise comedy hit

One of the last movies to arrive in 1987 is proving to be one of the best-liked, too. The delightfulness of ``Broadcast News'' came as a surprise to me, however. That's because it was written and directed by James L. Brooks, whose previous film was the popular ``Terms of Endearment.''

I'm one of the few people in the civilized world who didn't like ``Terms of Endearment,'' which I found not only sentimental but manipulative to the point of being pushy. It's a pleasure to report that ``Broadcast News'' is a far better film, and deserves much of the praise that's being heaped on it. This includes a pile of awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, which recently named it best picture of the year and gave other ``best'' prizes to director James L. Brooks, screenwriter James L. Brooks, star Holly Hunter, and even Jack Nicholson, who shows up in a bit part.

The characters of ``Broadcast News'' are television people. Holly Hunter plays an energetic producer who's so organized that she leaves time in her schedule for a good cry each day. Albert Brooks plays a reporter who's great at his job but always gets stuck in the second-banana spot. William Hurt plays a handsome anchorman who looks great on camera, but is better at reading news copy than understanding what it means.

The unusual thing about ``Broadcast News'' is that it's a romantic comedy where none of the romances ever quite happen. The reporter loves the producer; the producer loves the anchor. They all work in the same office and see each other constantly, but every time you think a love affair is about to blossom, it gets nudged out of the way by some new incident or emotion. This gives the story an unpredictable edge that sets it apart from most romantic movies.

Adding to the picture's fun are the satirical arrows it shoots at the TV news business. This is the movie to see if you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes - when a producer gets a last-minute idea that nearly throws a whole network off schedule, or when an eager newscaster gets a case of nervous perspiration at the worst possible moment.

Among the stars of ``Broadcast News,'' the big revelation is Holly Hunter, whose earlier work includes the movie ``Raising Arizona'' and some stage roles. As the lovable but high-powered producer she has just the right mixture of strength, vulnerability, and charm, and I'm sure there's an Oscar nomination in her near future.

Albert Brooks (no relation to James L.) has the funniest scene of the year as the sweaty newscaster, and William Hurt is wryly convincing as the good-looking but lunk-headed anchor. Jack Nicholson dourly hams it up in the small role of a newsroom superstar, and the rest of the supporting cast performs with similar gusto.

Director and writer James Brooks is a TV veteran himself: He created top-rated programs for Mary Tyler Moore and Edward Asner in his small-screen heyday, and he knows the business from the inside. He puts that knowledge to good and funny use here.

``Broadcast News'' isn't brilliantly subtle or intellectual or insightful. But it's always good-natured and always fun - in short, one of the year's happiest movie surprises.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.