March 1, 1996 in Seven

‘Personal’ All Hollywood, But Not All Bad

Jay Boyar Orlando Sentinel
 

“Up Close & Personal” is one of those shamelessly glossy, star-driven productions that seem to be about something very important (journalistic integrity, in this case) but ultimately are only about the glamour of Hollywood.

Providing much of the glamour are Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford, otherwise known as Blond and Blonder.

Pfeiffer plays Sallyanne Atwater, a beauty-contest contestant and aspiring newscaster from Reno, Nev., who comes to Miami to take a job as a TV news assistant. Redford is Warren Justice (that name!), a former network-news celeb who runs the Miami station’s news operation.

Warren puts Sallyanne on the air, renames her Tally, makes her cut her hair, critiques her reporting technique and instructs her that journalists “are only as good as the stories we tell.” For those who have never seen a movie before, I should mention that as Tally and Warren work together, they start to fall in love.

In a small, politically correct twist on the usual formula, the couple wait until after Tally announces that she’s leaving the station to consummate their relationship. After all, it wouldn’t do for a ‘90s heroine to be sleeping with the boss.

Still, their personal and professional relationships do gradually merge.

Warren is Tally’s guide through the thicket of TV news and celebrity. She is his favorite pupil, and his inspiration.

So after Tally goes to Philadelphia to pursue a better opportunity, she loses her bearings. And without Tally to inspire him, Warren finds that working in Miami no longer has much of a point.

If the movie’s title sounds a little generic to you, you’re right. “Up Close & Impersonal” might have been somewhat more honest.

This sort of thing has been done before - and not just in movies like “Broadcast News” and “Network” but also on TV series like “Murphy Brown,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “News Radio.”

Still, the new film offers just enough variations (politically correct or otherwise) on familiar themes to keep things … well, not fresh, exactly, but sort of fun.

The screenwriters are that toniest of literary couples, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, who also worked on the StreisandKristofferson version of “A Star Is Born.” (The narrative arc of the new film is similar enough to that of the 1976 production to suggest yet another alternate title: “A Star Reporter Is Born.”)

Director Jon Avnet (“Fried Green Tomatoes”) polishes up the material until you could see your face in it. The faces you actually see, of course, are those of Pfeiffer and Redford.

Redford, who will turn 60 next year, may finally be getting too old for this sort of role. But the star still has his twinkle, and he’s certainly credible as a maverick who can’t contain his impatience with fools and phonies.

Meanwhile, Pfeiffer manages to make her character register as ambitious without being obnoxious. (The difference between Tally and the deadly twit that Nicole Kidman played in the biting funny “To Die For” is that Tally is smarter and has a sense of proportion.)

“Up Close & Personal” doesn’t follow through on a lot of the points it raises, but it does have compensatory touches.

Accomplished actors like Joe Mantegna (as Tally’s agent), Glenn Plummer (as Tally’s favorite cameraman) and Kate Nelligan (as Warren’s Barbara Walters-like ex-wife) do precise, amusing pirouettes. And there’s an exciting, extended sequence in which Tally earns her reporter’s stripes by covering a prison riot.

It’s also fun to watch newcomer Tally becoming a sort of Corky Sherwood figure in Philadelphia as she poaches on the territory of the station’s resident Murphy Brown. Cast as the older broadcaster, Stockard Channing gives a terrifically tart performance that suggests how much better the “Murphy Brown” show would be if Candice Bergen could act.

One big thing in “Up Close & Personal” that is handled very clumsily is its ending, which feels contrived and - considering the general fluffiness of this production - overly solemn. I suspect that the filmmakers couldn’t figure out how to end the movie because the story isn’t really about much to start with.

But if journalists are only as good as the stories they tell, Tinseltown types are luckier. With all the glamour on view in this film, it squeaks by without a good story.

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “Up Close and Personal” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Coeur d’Alene Cinemas. Credits: Directed by Jon Avnet; starring Robert Redford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Stockard Channing, Joe Mantegna, Kate Nelligan, Glenn Plummer and James Rebhorn Running time: 2:04 Rating: PG-13

2. Other views Here’s what other critics say about “Up Close and Personal:” Chris Hewitt/St. Paul Pioneer Press: There are a lot of things wrong with “Up Close and Personal,” but I feel inclined to dwell on the good stuff. For starters, there is Michelle Pfeiffer as a fledgling TV newswoman who learns the ropes from flinty veteran Robert Redford. … Pfeiffer and Redford are good together, too. Their work relationship has the same buzzy, comic energy as the behind-the-scenes stuff in “Broadcast News,” and the stars speak an updated version of the snappy dialogue Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy used to chew into. It doesn’t sound anything like real people, but it does sound like the way glamorous movie characters talk, and that’s what this movie is all about. David Hunter/The Hollywood Reporter: From the beginning we know what she wants, and we come to learn what he wants, but have the filmmakers given the audience what it wants? A valentine to the beleaguered media and a robustly engineered star vehicle, “Up Close and Personal” is a long, ho-hum romancer about the birth of a star TV newswoman. Craggy-faced Robert Redford and sculpted beauty Michelle Pfeiffer play primetime crusaders in a wide-ranging story that chugs along smoothly for older audiences, who actually watch the news. But the Touchstone release is too stodgy for the younger crowd.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “Up Close and Personal” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Coeur d’Alene Cinemas. Credits: Directed by Jon Avnet; starring Robert Redford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Stockard Channing, Joe Mantegna, Kate Nelligan, Glenn Plummer and James Rebhorn Running time: 2:04 Rating: PG-13

2. Other views Here’s what other critics say about “Up Close and Personal:” Chris Hewitt/St. Paul Pioneer Press: There are a lot of things wrong with “Up Close and Personal,” but I feel inclined to dwell on the good stuff. For starters, there is Michelle Pfeiffer as a fledgling TV newswoman who learns the ropes from flinty veteran Robert Redford. … Pfeiffer and Redford are good together, too. Their work relationship has the same buzzy, comic energy as the behind-the-scenes stuff in “Broadcast News,” and the stars speak an updated version of the snappy dialogue Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy used to chew into. It doesn’t sound anything like real people, but it does sound like the way glamorous movie characters talk, and that’s what this movie is all about. David Hunter/The Hollywood Reporter: From the beginning we know what she wants, and we come to learn what he wants, but have the filmmakers given the audience what it wants? A valentine to the beleaguered media and a robustly engineered star vehicle, “Up Close and Personal” is a long, ho-hum romancer about the birth of a star TV newswoman. Craggy-faced Robert Redford and sculpted beauty Michelle Pfeiffer play primetime crusaders in a wide-ranging story that chugs along smoothly for older audiences, who actually watch the news. But the Touchstone release is too stodgy for the younger crowd.


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