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Up Close and Personal

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Up Close and Personal

Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Redford
Director: Jon Avnet
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: March 1996
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Stockard Channing, Joe Mantegna, Kate Nelligan, Glenn Plummer, James Rebhorn, Dedee Pfeiffer, Scott Bryce, Raymond Cruz, Miguel Sandoval

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

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 the book.

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

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