Apparently there’s something about the dizzy pace of a newsroom that acts like an aphrodisiac. In Hollywood’s imagination, these hothouses of pulse-quickening deadlines and flirtatious rat-a-tat one-liners are the only kryptonite that can thaw the otherwise icy hearts of cynical journalists. For ages, Howard Hawks’ 1940 quipfest His Girl Friday was the gold standard for romantic comedies that pitched woo from behind an Underwood. That is, until James L. Brooks made Broadcast News (1987, R, 2 hrs., 12 mins.). The veteran writer-director has stumbled a bit lately, what with 2004’s Spanglish and the recent How Do You Know, but when he dreamed up the fizzy love triangle of William Hurt, Holly Hunter, and Albert Brooks, he was in Pulitzer form, having proved he could do heart (1983’s Terms of Endearment) and knew his way around a newsroom (The Mary Tyler Moore Show).
Wickedly funny and smart, Broadcast News came out at the exact moment when TV news was caught in a tug-of-war between blow-dried anchors (Hurt) and self-righteous defenders of integrity (Brooks). Holly Hunter was the career woman stuck in the middle — and her performance is sweet, soulful, and staggering. Hunter’s driven D.C. producer may not have been a new kind of female character by the mid-’80s. But it was certainly the first time that such a range of colors had been used to paint one, as she juggles her brainiac best friend and the charmer who makes her melt, even if he represents everything she hates. It’s a brilliant film, whether you’re watching it for the first or fifth time. And the gorgeous new Criterion edition’s EXTRAS only enhance the experience, with the director offering a chatty commentary about the happy accidents that made it a classic as well as the scenes that didn’t make the cut, like a never-before-seen alternate ending in which Hunter and Hurt wind up together. Brooks admits that this would have been a mistake, even if he isn’t sold on the finale he went with. ”It’s a romantic triangle that ends without anybody getting anybody,” he says with a roaring laugh. A