“Up Close and Personal” is “A Star Is Born” meets “The Way We Were,” and while discerning audiences will turn their noses up, the hoi polloi are apt to embrace this unabashedly sentimental affair and send it soaring into the box office stratosphere. The story of an attractive, ambitious young woman’s romance with her boss, who grooms her into a pro TV newscaster, is a pleasing fairy tale with a charismatic cast and lush surroundings and music.
Sally Atwater (Michelle Pfeiffer) is fresh out of Reno. The demo tape she’s sent to dozens of stations has landed her a job in Miami, where she arrives overdressed and overeager. She aspires to greatness, but settles for doingthe “happy” weather. A teleprompter glitch has Sally re-christened “Tally.”
Her debut’s a catastrophe, but her boss — Warren Justice (Robert Redford), a former network White House correspondent — admires her spunk and makes her an on-air reporter. Warren takes her under his wing and she begins to improve. Her confidence and ambition grow, and we all know that it’s only a matter of time before she’ll be off to greener pastures.
Although loosely based on writer Alanna Nash’s Jessica Savitch bio, “Golden Girl,””Up Close” only distantly recalls the tragic rise and fall of Savitch, the late NBC reporter; Tally is considerably more wholesome and accessible.
Nonetheless, Savitch’s specter looms over the proceedings, threatening to turn this love story into a saga of the American dream gone wrong. The climax of the story would appear to be the consummation of the relationship, but that occurs midway through the picture, which thereafter struggles to hold our interest.
On the most obvious level, “Up Close” is the story of a woman’s personal and professional blossoming. But as with the recent remake of “Sabrina,” it’s also very much concerned with a man’s midlife crisis, which skews much of the emotional focus.
As Tally segues to Philadelphia, scripters Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne struggle to find a way of bringing Warren back into the story. In order to reunite the couple, he must drop back into reporting, a game he chose to vacate. And once he gets back into the picture, the only way to get Tally’s tale back on track is to provide him with another exit.
As with “The Way We Were,” the sweep of events provides the illusion of a bigger canvas than actually exists. It also offers some delicious and brief star turns for the likes of Stockard Channing, Kate Nelligan and Noble Willingham. Otherwise, it’s basically a two-character piece bolstered by the chemistry of Pfeiffer and Redford.
Director Jon Avnet does a fair job disguising logic with pace and scenery. It’s a slick piece of goods and an astute commercial package for a marketplace that always seems to be short on romance.
In another era, “Up Close and Personal” would be creamed by the competition. At the curtain, one expects Tally to paraphrase the “Star Is Born” finale and say, “Hello, this is Mrs. Warren Justice …” to complete the homage to a bygone time. This piece of recycled goods isn’t nearly as accomplished as its inspiration but, regrettably, it’s the best Hollywood has to offer in the heartstring-pulling genre.