Film Scouts Reviews

"Up Close and Personal"

by Karen Jaehne

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New York, February 23, 1996

Starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford. Directed by Jon Avnet. Screenplay by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, suggested by the book "Golden Girl" by Alanna Nash. Cinematography by Karl Walter Lindenlaub. Touchstone.

Is being on TV the greatest accomplishment in America today? Then why is an anchorperson, whose existence is codependent on a TelePrompTer, considered the ultimate bubblehead? And why does this movie want to show how Michelle Pfeiffer as Tally becomes the exception that proves the rule? Perhaps because Disney recently bought ABC? It must be good business to let the movie division praise that part of ABC most threatened by such a takeover, or do I sound like somebody who reads "The Nation?"

"Up Close and Personal" succeeds as a synergistic model but little else. A small but telling example: a prison riot occurs and Tally is caught overnight in the flaming, stampeding prison. Identifiable in her white sweater, we see her body trampled; yet here she is after the riot doing her stand-up outside the prison, and that sweater sports a mere smudge on the elbow. That's one helluva sweater to come through all that unscathed. The same could be said of Tally and her career.

Tally is from a trailer park on the edge of Reno, Nevada, and she creates a resume out of nothing to try to get a job in TV. Robert Redford, a former Washington-newsman washed up at KPFW in Miami, hires her, even dismissing her faking the resume with the line, "Anybody who wants something that bad must be good." He recognizes that "she eats the camera," and starts sending her on assignments. (Paradoxically, he contributes to the problem he claims is most insidiously undermining journalism-airheads.) Then he has to teach her how to do them. "Just tell the human story"-this is much harder than it sounds. (Try it.) Redford even leaves his managerial job in Miami to follow Tally to Philadelphia to show Tally how to look competent north of the Mason-Dixon line. Here, Stockard Channing is the best thing in the movie, as a seasoned anchor sniping at Tally's wide-eyed ambition.

The movie's approach to style involves a total fetishization of Pfeiffer's body. The camera strokes her up and down, getting the light off her legs, a curve of breast and stretch of thigh. It's amazing-primarily because she is so astonishingly beautiful that it does create the best sex object since...I dunno...since Harlow, but secondarily, because it creates an eroticized atmosphere around her that undercuts her role as a serious journalist.

The movie wants to be serious as desperately as Tally wants to be a reporter. Credibility is a problem on both fronts. It's not aided by appalling fortune-cookie dialogue: "Every day we have is one we don't deserve." The stock montage of romance and courtship first done in "The Way We Were" is by now truly tedious. Late in an otherwise predictable film, the plot twists itself into a pretzel to convince us that Redford is a truly tough journalist ready to prove a CIA plot to destabilize the government in Panama so that the U.S. doesn't have to give back the Canal. His martyrdom is the apotheosis of Tally's career.

So let's review this piece of pygmaliana. Redford gives Tally a job; he shows her how to do it; he makes her do it; he pops up in her old trailer park to pay her sister's rent in a crisis; he makes her cut her hair and dress like a serious person; he falls in love for the first time in his life with her; he rescues her from floundering in Philly; he comes to produce the prison story that makes her hot; he gives her a good idea for a story they'll do together; he pulls out of that story when she's ready to side with corporate interests against real reporting; he gives his life to make her the widowed wonder of the media. What a guy. What a gal. "To Die For" without a hint of irony!

All you can do is paraphrase Redford's own summary of their relationship: Every scene we have is one we don't deserve.

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