∆ Delta. Change. Math.
I got halfway through my binge of season one of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend before I realized that it has the same love triangle as Broadcast News.
They both feature an intelligent female protagonist who is great at her job but also high-strung. She is torn between a sarcastic, smart guy who is into her but also not very caring and a pretty, not-so-smart guy who she really likes but is stages of unavailable. It’s a familiar dilemma: it’s Win a Date with Tad Hamilton. It’s Some Kind of Wonderful. It’s Sabrina. Princess Diaries. Frozen. I’m writing these in the order they pop into my head. I think this plot emerged to subvert the Prince Charming fairy tale, to emphasize connection and agency over looks and fantasy. The protagonist here is also important: she’s someone who feels like an outcast, may have an ugly duckling makeover, and doesn’t usually get male attention. Jezebel calls this the ballad of the overlooked best friend. I also have a sneaking suspicion that nerdy male writers and directors proliferated this revisionist fairy tale trope to write a fantasy where the
nice overlooked guy like them gets the girl.
But by now this trope is as familiar as Prince Charming. Upon seeing Crazy and Broadcast, I immediately recognize Greg (Santino Fontana) and Aaron (Albert Brooks) as the romantic lead we’re supposed to want the protagonist to be with. But what’s interesting is what they do with it.
As a TV series, Crazy has more time to get into the pros and cons of Josh (Prince Charming) vs. Greg (overlooked friend). But in its first season, it played the Ballad of the Overlooked Best Friend straight. I was unapologetically #TeamGreg throughout the season, even when he was a complete asshole.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Rebecca shouldn’t be with either of them because she has spent her whole life subsuming her needs/wants for men. And because they have to keep mixing up the plot, giving us new couples to root for and new obstacles in their way, I assume Crazy will deploy (in a very aware way) different tropes each season.
Movies, however, are contained stories. They only really get to pick one plot to follow. This is why romantic comedies have such familiar arcs. Which brings me to Broadcast News.
Quick caveat on my opinion of that movie: Sometimes my impressions of movies change because of other critics’ opinions, sometimes it’s new information, sometimes I change, and sometimes it just grows on me. For some reason (perhaps it’s my physical attraction to 1980s William Hurt), Broadcast News stuck with me after I reviewed it for my post on the 1988 Oscars. I enjoyed watching the movie, but I was troubled with its message. Yet I renewed it from the library. I checked it out again. I re-watched it at least 2.5 times.
Why? I’m still wrestling with that question. One answer I have is the compelling and soothing quality I get from James Brooks movies. I used to watch As Good As It Gets whenever I was home sick; it has stakes but it doesn’t send you on an emotional rollercoaster. The dialogue is natural and low-key. You can
have a fever dream zone out for a bit in the middle and not miss anything. Broadcast News has all that with a more compelling (and believable) love story at the center. I believe the chemistry between the leads, and they are recognizable people (I definitely know some people like Albert Brooks’ character).
My initial distaste with the movie stemmed from me reading it as the Ballad of the Overlooked Best Friend. I assumed the movie wanted the audience to root for Hunter and Brooks’ characters to end up together. When it goes out of its way to show that Brooks is an asshole, I assumed we were supposed to forgive his sins as lesser than Hurt’s.
And the theatrical ending supported my initial read, because Brooks ends up married with a kid in the end and Hunter doesn’t end up with either of them. Upon further watching, I admire the way that Broadcast News lets Brooks reveal his true colors in such a spectacular fashion. Hunter doesn’t seem willing to completely abandon the friendship, even after their fight, but Brooks is done. I just wish it had doubled down on its romantic comedy outline: after rejecting Brooks, Hunter needs to reconcile with Hurt. Instead of subverting Prince Charming, it fulfills it (although Hurt is in need of more saving than Hunter).
This brings me to the Alternate Ending. The official ending jumps ahead a few years and we see that the characters have all progressed in their separate career tracks. They have a brief, cordial, and emotionless reunion that I think undermines the conflict and point of the entire movie. I hated it so much I didn’t even make a gif of it.
In the Alternate Ending, William Hurt doesn’t get on the plane (don’t all great love stories involve a will-they-or-won’t-they plane scene?) and instead takes the cab back to DC with Holly Hunter. Here it is, in gifs:
I get the idea that they will not last long as a romantic couple; in fact the flash forward of the original ending seems likely to me. But to conclude the movie (as opposed to the lives of these fictional characters), I think we need to see the resolution (however temporary) of this love triangle that has dominated the movie. Since it’s more about workplace relationships and less about the state of the news in the late 80s, the ending needs to resolve the relationship drama, not predict the future of the news (that’s for Network to do).
Welp, that’s the end of my (perhaps) most pointless post ever.