Broadcast News (1987)

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“And that’s the way it is…”—Walter Cronkite, anchorman

Broadcast News, like the profession it deals with, gives viewers the cold, hard truth. The headlining lesson is about desire. In a professional career, you don’t always get what you want. When falling in love, you don’t always get what you want, either. For the characters in this story, those two aspects of life are sometimes indistinguishable. We learn from observation that careers and love are both fickle things.

There are three main characters that can be described as three types of people you probably knew in high school. Producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) is the girl every guy wants in his group project, because she’s pretty…and such a driven perfectionist that she’ll do everything herself. Anchorman Tom Grunick (William Hurt) is the jock who tries out for one musical and gets the lead, ticking off every thespian in the school. Reporter Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) is the guy whose impressive work ethic should have led him to be class president by now or at least captain of the chess team, but he’s still sitting at the same table in the cafeteria with the same group of friends he’s had since elementary school.

Instead of a high school, it’s a national TV news station. And a note before I forget: Aaron and Jane are the played by the voices of clownfish Marlin and superhero Elastigirl of Pixar fame, so it may be hard for people my age to take their roles seriously in Broadcast News.

Aaron is by far the most relatable character in the movie, and sometimes I wondered if I was watching the curly-haired Albert Brooks play a version of myself. I’m sure I am not the only one who knows what it feels like to watch someone else do “better” at a project I care about, or to watch a crush fall for the other guy. However, Aaron’s response to these setbacks are what makes him a hero; he continues to pursue opportunities at the news station that will advance his career (even if it means getting trained by his competition), and he doesn’t let awkward love traingles get in the way of making friendships stronger.

[Spoiler Alert] The finale of the movie takes place several years later, when the three main characters reunite after none of them got what they desired. I love how the screenwriters keep you on the edge of your seat to figure out how things played out, even after the reunion is in motion. For example, Aaron now has a little boy of his own, causing us to ask the question, “Who is the mother? Is it Jane?!” Our hearts sink when we finally see Jane and she says to the child, “Look at you! You’re more adorable than your pictures!” That answers that. He found somebody else.

The Broadcast News script ends with this paragraph: “As the two former colleagues catch up, their ease returns, if not their intimacy, as the frame locks and slowly recedes into a black background.”

If every movie ended like that we would probably stop going to the movies, but sometimes it’s nice to have an ending that’s not happy, not sad, just true.