Up Close & Personal

(Jon Avnet, USA, 1996)


Up Close & Personal is among the very worst films of the '90s. All those who groaned when Pretty Woman (1990) re-worked the Pygmalion story for its own vacuous, conservative ends will groan again at this sorry spectacle.

Sally (Michelle Pfeiffer), like Nicole Kidman in To Die For (1996), craves television stardom and starts her career at the bottom, as a nervous weather girl. She seems unperturbed when a (much) older producer, Warren (Robert Redford), suggests that she change her name to Tally. Instantly, her public image is in his hands – and, eventually, her private life as well.

As a tale of making it in the mass media, Up Close & Personal tries to blend the busy, sexy, screwball intrigue of Broadcast News (1987) with the gender dynamics of the classic His Girl Friday (1940). Naturally, it is careful to fudge the bald man-makes-woman premise with a few extenuating suggestions: that Tally had talent all along, and that Warren himself needs a little professional re-invigoration.

But this film is dull and uninspired from first moment to last – somewhat surprisingly, given the presence of director Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes, 1991) and co-writer Joan Didion (Play It As It Lays, 1972). All the inside detail about working in the media has a hollow, inauthentic ring. The usual guff about the moral superiority of hard news over infotainment is, in this context, risible. And the script's ultimate swerve into tragedy is extremely badly handled.

The stars do not fare well. Pfeiffer's giggly, teary, cloying role is demeaning, and she can do little with it. Redford is simply awful; everything about him – his voice, face, body – is flat, stiff and inexpressive. His emotional range is closer to Steven Seagal than Cary Grant.

MORE Avnet: Red Corner

MORE Redford: Quiz Show, The Clearing, Indecent Proposal, Sneakers, The Horse Whisperer, The Legend of Bagger Vance

© Adrian Martin June 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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