I have two important rules when it comes to my work life.
Rule 1: always have a job working 40-hours a week. I don’t always like my job but I have stayed with it for 20 years and I will cling to it at all cost.
Rule 2: avoid working more than 40-hours a week. Brave Union visionaries fought for the 40-hour work week and I think they came up with the perfect number. A full-time job is great for a person’s dignity. More than that, and I may wonder where the job ends and my real life begins.
“Broadcast News” is a deceptively brilliant comedy about three very different people who all suffer from the same fatal flaw: they chose a stressful profession where their work is never done. And they can’t separate their work life from their home life.
The story takes place during the late 80s, back when some people still believed the news and television anchors were trusted members of many American families. We witness a few eventful weeks at the Washington DC bureau of a network news organization.
But that is the just the backdrop. This isn’t a satire about the media. This is a perfectly crafted romantic comedy about a doomed love triangle.
I can’t believe Holly Hunter didn’t win the Oscar for playing television producer Jane Craig. Jane is the first post-feminist hero in American cinema. She’s not trying to make it in a man’s world: all the men are trying to keep up with her.
Jane is plainly the hardest working and best qualified. She’s at her best when the pressure is highest. Her problem is what to do with herself when there isn’t a deadline to meet. She overthinks her private life and frequently breaks down in sobbing fits.
William Hurt is equally interesting as Tom Grunick: the new guy at the office. He has been promoted to network news because of his charm and his looks. He does not have the intelligence or the education of his colleagues and he knows it. He can be dishonest and manipulative.
In a normal movie, Tom would be the bad guy: the interloper, the lady killer, the mediocre white guy stealing a better person’s job. But writer/director James L. Brooks is too good for that. Tom knows he has a lot to learn and he is constantly picking the brains of his more knowledgeable co-workers. He is every bit as dedicated as Jane.
Possibly the most relatable character is Jane’s best friend Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks). He is trilingual, highly educated, and a substantive reporter. In his mind, he deserves to be an anchor and he deserves to win Jane’s heart.
We’ve all known men like Aaron. He thinks he’s losing at life because nice guys finish last. But he is not a nice guy. Aaron is arrogant, self-righteous, and judgmental.
In one ugly scene, Tom has done a piece about date rape and he is presenting it to everyone in the news room. It is not a traditional, objective news story but it is powerful and effective. Aaron just dismisses it. “You’ve really blown the lid off of nookie,” he scoffs. We all cringe.
When Aaron finally gets his chance to anchor, we know he is going to fail. It’s obvious to us that Tom deserves the job over Aaron; Aaron has to learn it the hard way. The scene is funny and satisfying.
I do not like romantic comedies at all. But James L. Brooks mastered the art. The only two rom-coms I enjoy are “Broadcast News” and “As Good as it Gets,” both made by the brilliant Mr. Brooks.
I can hardly think of anything worse than not having a job. Except, perhaps, having an important, stressful job that never ends like the poor people in “Broadcast News.” It’s a cautionary tale, a charming romantic comedy, and a 4-star classic.