Critics' Corner

Desson Howe - Weekend section, "Over-cushiony romance."


Rita Kempley - Style section,
"Archaic fairy tale."


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'Up Close and Personal'

Scene from this movie

Robert Redford plays a peacocky Pygmalion to Michelle Pfeiffer's boob-tube Galatea in "Up Close & Personal," an archaic fairy tale posing as a critique of television news.

Though loosely based on the Jessica Savitch biography, "Golden Girl," the film is little more than a showcase for its own golden-haired superstars. Tally, nee Sallyanne of Reno, Nev., sends her homemade demo tape to dozens of stations, but only veteran newsman Warren Justice (Redford) recognizes her true potential. "She eats the lens," observes Warren, the craggy news director at a scrappy Miami affiliate who becomes Tally's mentor and eventually her lover. -- Rita Kempley Rated PG-13


Director: Jon Avnet
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer; Robert Redford; Stockard Channing
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Filmographies: Michelle Pfeiffer ; Robert Redford ; Stockard Channing







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'Up Close' and Predictable

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 01, 1996

"Up Close and Personal" is about the passionate, ever-deepening relationship between a beautiful TV news reporter with thick, pillowy lips (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a craggy, veteran journalist (Robert Redford) with skin like an old leather armchair. In this over-cushiony romance, they fit together like, well, cheap furniture.

Clearly, their union-he's the jaded newsman who's seen it all, she's the determined protege who becomes a superstar-is meant to be a richer, more stirring affair than this. But, for the most part, Pfeiffer and Redford, who spend a lot of lovin' time lying around on beds, beaches and TV studio floors, are reduced to a collective, supine idiocy.

"Up Close and Personal," which was "suggested" by the Jessica Savitch biography, "Golden Girl: The Story of Jessica Savitch," starts out with relative promise. Pfeiffer plays Sallyanne Atwater (soon to be Tally Atwater, thanks to a TelePrompTer mistake), an ambitious klutz from Nevada who dreams of being a news anchor.

She fakes a broadcast resume on videotape and is hired as a personal assistant by Miami news director Redford. ("Do you always wear that much makeup?" he asks her disparagingly.)

Redford, charmed by her precocious determination, allows her to become the station's weather woman. She's hopeless at first. But Redford realizes with wonder that "she eats up the lens." He persuades her to stay the course and she evolves from goofy to gutsy, while Redford subtly guides her like an electronic Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The movie, directed by Jon ("Fried Green Tomatoes") Avnet, delays the inevitable romance as long as possible. As they warily circle each other, sizing up each other's strengths, Pfeiffer and Redford are always inches away from an embrace or kiss, as if capitulation to the impending affair would be anticlimactic.

They're right: This pre-smooching section is actually the best part of the movie, as Pfeiffer encounters a studio full of nutty, post-"Broadcast News" archetypes, including Glenn Plummer as a dreadlocked cameraman who becomes her constant companion; and Scott Bryce, the station's self-impressed, moronic anchor who laughably offers himself as Pfeiffer's mentor.

Ah, but then, the loooove comes through like a bad-news feed, and our marquee lovers undergo one of those unbearable montages. While an insipid, rock ballad covers the proceedings with auditory treacle, Cushion Lips and Armchair Man walk together, laugh together, frolic in the waves with their clothes on-that sort of thing.

Pfeiffer makes a big-time career move to a Philadelphia operation, changes her hair color to black, looks awful, and the movie pulls its own plug. Nothing can be done about this loss of power, even a prison riot in which Pfeiffer is trapped with the prisoners and gets out a live interview while smoke and mayhem abound.

In this movie, network executives-who depend entirely on focus groups, marketing and advertisers to inform their decisions-are painted as the moral bad guys, while Redford and the emerging Pfeiffer are the embodiment of integrity. (Redford disparagingly refers to his former broadcast network-IBS-as a font of "infotainment.") But this truth-versus-entertainment theme is done with such conventional, repetitive blandness, it conveys the opposite message. Screenwriters Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne don't seem entirely convinced of their smug, self-congratulatory point of view. And the fact that this is a Touchstone Pictures production-part of the marketing-obsessed, truth-sweetening Disney empire which just purchased ABC-is far too hilarious an irony to ignore.

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL (PG-13) - Contains sexual scenes and profanity.

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Up a Blond Alley

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 01, 1996

Robert Redford plays a peacocky Pygmalion to Michelle Pfeiffer's boob-tube Galatea in "Up Close & Personal," an archaic fairy tale posing as a critique of television news. While the picture does pay lip service to journalistic integrity, it's definitely not another "Broadcast News." Heck, it's not even as pointed as the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Though loosely based on the Jessica Savitch biography, "Golden Girl," the film is little more than a showcase for its own golden-haired superstars. It's as shiny and hollow as a Christmas special-not to mention stale and sentimental. Savitch's ill-fated career might have made a better movie, but the only thing Pfeiffer's Tally Atwater shares with Savitch is spunk and hair color.

Tally, nee Sallyanne of Reno, Nev., sends her homemade demo tape to dozens of stations, but only veteran newsman Warren Justice (Redford) recognizes her true potential. "She eats the lens," observes Warren, the craggy news director at a scrappy Miami affiliate who becomes Tally's mentor and eventually her lover. While the relationship is presented as romantic, it's really demeaning and patriarchal-if not downright abusive. First, he takes the gorgeous upstart down a peg or two: He obliges her to fetch his coffee and laundry, puts down her taste in clothes and hair, and mocks her lack of education.

When he finally promotes her from gofer to reporter, he doesn't encourage or instruct her. He lectures and threatens and badgers her into making a success of herself. What's more, it's a lifelong pattern, according to one of Warren's many former proteges and ex-wives (Kate Nelligan). But this time it's different, says Warren, who doesn't know what to do with himself when Tally leaves for more exposure in Philadelphia.

Tally, not at all prepared for the tough Northeastern market, is immediately intimidated by the station's testosterrific anchorwoman (Stockard Channing). Her confidence is further shaken when the station manager asks her to dye her hair brown in response to viewer complaints. Her on-camera presence, so lively and caring in Miami, ultimately become as fake as her new hairdo.

Upon learning of Tally's troubles from her agent (Joe Mantegna), Warren flies to Philadelphia to save his protege. He reviews her recent tapes, pronounces them "crap" and reminds her that it's all about the story. Under Warren's wing, Tally blossoms once again. His own career, meanwhile, has begun to wane.

Warren, who still believes that substance matters in a medium increasingly drawn to showmanship, is wont to lecture his superiors for their poor judgment. The Miami station manager, weary of his criticism, pulls the plug while he's away in Philadelphia. And his reputation prevents his finding another job.

Sound familiar?

Noted author Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, writers of Barbra Streisand's 1976 remake of "A Star Is Born," have essentially recycled that narrative. Director Jon Avnet of "Fried Green Tomatoes" has added a glossy lacquer and the stars their luster, but there's no disguising the predictability of the scenario. Though the film contains the sparks of what might have been, there's no fire. If there were, the sap would put it out.

Up Close & Personal is rated PG-13 for sex and language.

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