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Up Close and Personal
Director: Jon Avnet
Screenplay: Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne
Stars: Robert Redford (Warren Justice), Michelle Pfeiffer (Tally Atwater), Stockard Channing (Marcia McGrath), Joe Mantegna (Bucky Terranova), Kate Nelligan (Joanna Kennelly), Glenn Plummer (Ned Jackson), James Rebhorn (John Merino)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 1996
Country: USA
Jon Avnet's "Up Close and Personal" is a story about finding yourself, a romance, and a commentary on the politics and power struggles of big corporate news stations all rolled into one. Sometimes this feels confusing, and sometimes it all works together to create an absorbing romance against a fascinating backdrop.

Like 1987's "Broadcast News," "Up Close and Personal" is about people who are obsessed with making television news. In all the scenes dealing with the business, there is a fierce sense of urgency that not a second can be wasted, and there is no room for mistakes. Everyone is always scurrying around, papers are everywhere, ideas come up and are shot down by the dozen.

And presiding over all of this at a Miami news station is Warren Justice (Robert Redford), an ex-newsman who was once at the top of the business. But, he was always a little untamed, the kind of man who isn't afraid to tell the story the way it was instead of sugar-coating it and playing down to the audience. This strong attitude made him more than a few enemies, and at some point in his career he made a major mistake that put him down the ladder.

In comes Tally Atwater (Michelle Pfeiffer), a young woman who is determined to become a star. She shows up overdressed with too much make-up, thinking that she's going to head straight to the top, always assured that she can do it. Redford tests her, putting her at a demanding desk job, making her get his coffee and laundry, killing every idea she can come up with, but never managing to break her.

Redford immediately senses her potential and takes her under his wing, slowly building her into a top-notch news reporter. "She eats the lens," he says after seeing her bumbled first attempt at a weather forecast. Everyone else thought she made a fool of herself; Redford looked deeper and realized what she could be.

Somewhere along the way, they fall in love. It's a perfectly plausible romance because it grows from logical beginnings. Pfeiffer is infatuated with Redford from the start because he's been where she wants to be, and she looks up to him like a mentor. As she slowly gains more experience, their relationship builds on a more personal level, and they begin to see each other as more than teacher and protégé.

There are, of course, complications. For one, Redford has already been through two marriages and, as he puts it, "I'm not very good at being around in the mornings." Pfeiffer's career begins to take off, and she gets an offer to move up the ranks at a bigger station in Philadelphia. Redford has to stay at his job in Miami, but once they are apart, nothing is the same for either of them. Pfeiffer begins to realize that she can't work without Redford because he has made her into what she is, and she doesn't know how to do it without him. She is a strong female character, but part of the conflict in the plot is her need to break away from Redford despite her love for him.

The film is sprinkled with stereotypical secondary characters, such as the egomaniac male news anchor in Miami who comes onto Pfeiffer from day one. Stockard Channing plays a powerful female anchor in Philadelphia who butts heads with Pfeiffer because she's been doing it her own way for so long, and Pfeiffer's new popularity threatens her consistency.

There's a big, anticlimactic scene involving a prison riot that Pfeiffer gets caught in for 24 hours. Redford sits in a trailer outside, talking her through it, seeming emotionally detached to a degree that's almost alarming. The scene makes you wonder if anything can jar his professionalism, since his wife risking her life in a prison riot can't.

Then there's the last twenty minutes which are the film's unfortunate downfall. The ending feel completely tacked on, as if it was an afterthought. The prison riot almost seems like a logical closing point because it's a strong climax that could leave the film closed, but just ambiguous enough to let the viewers draw their own conclusions. Apparently, the filmmakers didn't think an American audience was up to that, so instead they spoon-feed you a closure that just doesn't work.

Too bad. Up until then, it's a worthwhile piece of romantic filmmaking.

Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat




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