Up Close & Personal
Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne (Book: Alanna Nash)
Robert Redford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Stockard Channing, Joe Mantegna, Kate Nelligan, Glenn Plummer, James Reobhorn, Scott Bryce, Raymond Cruz, Dedee Pfeiffer, Miguel Sandoval, Noble Willingham, James Karen
Romantic dramas are a dime a dozen. Good ones are exceedingly rare. Toss in the added frustration of news-oriented plotlines and you have Up Close and Personal, a film that wants to succeed, but never quite figures out how to be great.
The story follows a young reporter (Michelle Pfeiffer) as she earns her big break under the tutelage of an experienced newsman (Robert Redford). As the two grow closer, the reporter launches a captivating career that culminates in an award being given in her honor. Success and tragedy follow her in equal measure as mentor and mentee eventually change positions, leaving the relationship between the pair fraught with roadblocks of assorted shapes and sizes.
Pfeiffer and Redford have good chemistry together and the film has a lot of poignant things to say, but it’s the romantic elements that often derail the story even when they ultimately bolster the finale. While films like Broadcast News are closer to the style of journalism-targeted pieces we would prefer to see, ones that at least try to tackle some difficult issues, this film gets bonus points, especially when as lovingly executed as it is.
Jon Avnet is the kind of journeyman director who turns out compelling pieces that sometimes feature frustrating flaws. Beginning as the writer of Risky Business in 1983 and putting forth Less Than Zero four years later, it was his directorial debut in 1991 that set the tone for the rest of his career, the engaging and uplifting Fried Green Tomatoes. Up Close and Personal came along five years later and ended up being his second-highest grossing directorial effort, earning his film an Academy Award nomination for the popular song “Because You Loved Me” from powerhouse songwriter Diane Warren and sung by Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion.
Unfortunately for Avnet, Dion’s chart-topping single was significantly more popular than the film itself. Avnet tried very hard to position his romantic story into a conscientious space by exploring the dog-eat-dog world of local and network journalism. The film isn’t a hard-hitting piece of journalism, nor is it entirely a wasted piece of fluff. This blend of Broadcast News and Sleepless in Seattle tries to play both genres together, though it doesn’t entirely succeed.
Up Close and Personal is a late-career blip in Redford’s storied filmography and Michelle Pfeiffer has had bigger successes before and after the film. However, if you’re interested in seeing the pair work together, this is a great opportunity. It is an engaging, almost endearing, film with plenty of issues, but none of those problems generate any kind of animus, just a vague sense of disappointment that it wasn’t ever so slightly better.
March 29, 2021