This satire/romantic comedy about… well, just reread the title, just got the Criterion makeover and was recently seen embarrassing me on my shame list. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and walked away with zero, thanks to competition from another successful romantic comedy, Moonstruck, as well as that year’s big winner (and fellow Criterion title) The Last Emperor. It was a tough year and I don’t think Brooks’ smart film was shortchanged, except in one category, Best Actress, where Holly Hunter lost to the popular (at the time) Cher. Regardless of awards recognition, I found this to be my favorite of Brooks’ films that I’ve seen (As Good as it Gets, Terms of Endearment).
A lot of my admiration is for Holly Hunter’s wonderful performance as the fast talking, too smart for her own good, basket case of a television producer, Jane. She knows at every moment what detail or amount of subtly is required of her and it enhances every scene she’s in. When Jane finds herself alone she is often overcome by uncontrollable tears. The pressure of the day and her wreck of a social life denting her rough exterior. Hunter plays these scenes so straight and heartbreaking that I found them to be the most touching and hilarious moments in the movie.
Jane has two important men in her life. Aaron, played by Albert Brooks is her friend and co-worker. He is smart but smarmy and therefore perfectly suited to be a television reporter. He has all the right answers but, despite his obvious crush on Jane, can’t get out of the friend-zone. His intelligence doesn’t help him in front of the camera either. During his big chance at anchor things turn disastrous thanks to some over-the-top flop sweat. Then, along comes the dimwitted new anchor, Tom, played by William Hurt. He really is quite clueless but makes up for it with lots of charm and good looks.
Both Brooks and Hurt nail their roles. Brooks is very funny here, as always, but scales back some of his common comedic traits just enough to give his character depth and sensitivity, even if he is a prick. Hurt is quite convincing in an uncharacteristically dumb role. I don’t know what he did, but his eyes have a way of making him always seem lost. Although he really is a nice guy, Tom represents the worst side of the news and media, which Jane has been striving against her whole career.
The fact that both suitors are a little unlikable and not necessarily “the one” is what makes the movie far superior to the usual dreck that passes for romantic comedy these days (that and the great acting). There are layers to the characters and the director/writer wisely avoids succumbing to pat solutions and tired scenarios. There’s also the welcome satire that most films don’t even attempt. The film was eerily prescient about media and the news and the unfortunate direction it eventually went, favoring style over substance, commentary over facts.
I already knew Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks were awesome and this film simply preaches to the choir. While not my favorite film of 1987 (Predator, Empire of the Sun, Full Metal Jacket, Raising Arizona, Evil Dead 2, fellow Criterions Au Revoir Les Enfants and Robocop), it’s definitely one of the best. I don’t know why it has taken me this long to finally see it, but I’m glad I did. It’s nothing revelatory but a good rom-com is an endangered species these days.