Influential movie critic Pauline Kael was famous for declaring that she never saw a movie more than once because she felt that she had gotten it the first time.
Her policy meant that she didn’t get the chance to see how the passing years, and age, can change one’s perceptions and deepen one’s appreciation for some movies on repeat viewings — or the reverse.
For example, re-watching “Gone With the Wind” a few years back, I was struck by how Mammy (Hattie McDaniel, in her Oscar-winning performance) is so clearly the drama’s moral center. This was not something my 13-year-old self picked up on the first time — then it was all about Scarlett and Rhett.
Similarly, when I viewed “The Graduate” as a 17-year-old in a revival house, I found myself identifying with Dustin Hoffman’s baffled Benjamin. Seeing it again 25 years later, it was all about Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson. Rather than seeming predatory, she now struck me as a tragic figure stuck in a life and marriage she rued.
But memory can also give a burnished glow to films that may not deserve it. How many movies about kooks and crazy people who are — wait for it — really the sane ones fail to charm upon repeat viewing? I’m thinking specifically of two films from the 1960s, “A Thousand Clowns” and “King of Hearts,” but it’s a formula Hollywood never tires of revisiting.
Or consider “Five Easy Pieces,” in which Jack Nicholson played one of the ‘70s’ seminal anti-heroes and was perceived as admirable at the time for rejecting a life of privilege. Viewed now, he seems like an aimless spoiled rich kid who’s a nasty misogynist to boot. (Though the chicken salad sandwich scene in the coffee shop is still a favorite.)
A movie that was of the moment but has stood the test of time is 1987’s “Broadcast News.” Director-writer James L. Brooks captured the adrenaline rush of producing TV news, but also the ethical and monetary conflicts that were roiling the industry at the time. And Holly Hunter’s breakout performance as an ambitious, talented producer was a revelation, marking her as a comer the same way as Tom Cruise in “Risky Business” or Angela Bassett in “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”
I especially bring up “Broadcast News” because this week’s new “Morning Glory,” in which a young female TV producer tries to rescue a network’s ratings-anemic morning show, bumps headlong against memories of “Broadcast News,” with its focus on the merits of soft versus hard news.
It’s “Morning Glory” that comes out wanting.
Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, a spunky, workaholic TV producer who is given the unenviable job of trying to goose the ratings of a perennially cellar-dwelling morning news show. After finding a loophole in his contract, she presses Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a respected ex-primetime anchorman, into service as co-host with the show’s long-suffering Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), a former Miss Arizona.
The two hosts bicker endlessly, both on-air and off (offering several of the movie’s best scenes), while Becky and Mike, who’s proudly and cantankerously old school, debate the merits of investigative news versus cooking segments. The more Becky resorts to outrageous stunts (having the weatherman ride a roller coaster live and sky dive), the higher the show’s ratings climb.
The comedy, directed by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) and written by Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada”), starts off well but then mostly just spins its wheels. There’s a couldn’t-care-less romance between Becky and another producer (Patrick Wilson), which is superfluous since the movie’s real romance, while strictly platonic, is between Becky and Mike as each comes grudgingly to respect the other’s point of view.
The movie makes good use of its New York locations and the cast are all likable pros. It’s just that, unlike “Broadcast News,” nothing seems especially fresh here, and little is at stake.
If anything, “Glory” seems to endorse what Ford’s character early on dismisses as “fluffy news.”
And that’s the difference between the two movies: “Glory” is essentially a fluffy movie. “Broadcast News,” while entertaining, had real bite.