Criterion's Broadcast News DVD: How the film foresaw a crisis in journalism—and in rom-coms. (Video)

Deleted scenes, commentary, and more.
Feb. 8 2011 10:14 AM

We Need More Women Like Jane Craig

Broadcast News foresaw a crisis in journalism—and in rom-coms.

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Test audiences did not approve. "Some people expect that they go to a movie, they're gonna see a movie ending," Brooks laughs. He even shot a new conclusion, setting up an elaborate ruse: Hunter was told she was reshooting her final scene, in a taxicab leaving the airport; Hurt would spring into the cab, surprising her and, Brooks hoped, giving him the emotional finale audiences were demanding. The conceit fell apart when a crew member said, within Hunter's earshot, "We're ready, Bill."

They shot the scene anyway. Included for the first time on this new edition, it's wrong-headed and painful to watch, but still astonishing—two incredible, intuitive actors improvising after being put out to sea by their director. So fresh is Jane's fury at Tom's ethical lapse, it's clear the ending could never work, but Hunter, the pro, finds a way into Hurt's arms as the cab leaves Dulles. "I could fuckin' kill you," Hunter hisses. "You sure could," Hurt agrees.

Contrast the resolution of Broadcast News with Brooks' latest film, December's How Do You Know. Its setup is a virtual carbon-copy of Broadcast's, with Reese Witherspoon—a spunky actress superficially in the Hunter mode—as Lisa, a hard-driving softball player choosing between George, a nebbish with his career in the toilet (Paul Rudd), and Matty, a baseball star with everything going for him (Owen Wilson). Shaggy blond himbo Matty is, in fact, a new-style Tom Grunick, even repeating his vocal tics: "Good talk, good talk," Matty likes to say after he feels a conversation's gone well, an echo of a dazed and naked Tom telling a colleague, "Great date!" just after they've finished having sex.

But in How Do You Know, Brooks wriggles free from dealing with Lisa's career; she's cut from the Olympic team at the beginning of the movie, making her workaholism irrelevant. And, needless to say, Lisa doesn't get to saunter off on her own at the end of the movie; she ends up with Paul Rudd. How Do You Know isn't bad—its writing and acting are several measures more thoughtful than any other romantic comedy's in recent memory—but it plays like a half-hearted Broadcast remake, with all the good stuff surgically excised.

Brooks was in post-production on HDYK when he recorded the new commentary for Broadcast News, and he spends a lot of the commentary exuberantly praising the older film in a way that suggests he hasn't loved making its spiritual sequel. Over and over again he praises the four-year-conservatory training of his three leads, which allowed them to give him something fresh on every take—so often (more than 10 times, by my count) that it begins to sound like the lament of a man who's been watching Owen Wilson all day in the editing room.

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Brooks also sounds justifiably proud of his Broadcast ending—and saddened that, despite three Oscars to his name, he'll never be able to make a picture like that again. "It'd be great to repeat it, but it becomes harder and harder," he says of the writing and filming process that led to Broadcast News' ending, an ending that clinches its status as the smartest romantic comedy of the past 25 years.

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