Up Close and Personal
1996, PG-13, 124 min. Directed by Jon Avnet. Starring Robert Redford, Michelle Pfeiffer, Stockard Channing, Joe Mantegna, Kate Nelligan, Glenn Plummer, James Rebhorn.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 1, 1996
Why was it that every time I saw the trailer for Up Close and Personal, I felt that I ought to be seeing Jane Fonda's face where, instead, I was seeing Michelle Pfeiffer's? It wasn't wishful thinking, but was it reflections of the young Fonda as the China Syndrome reporter that I was seeing? Or, perhaps, memories of several earlier parings of Fonda and Redford in movies like The Chase, Barefoot in the Park, and the Electric Horseman that I was recalling? Or was it shades of the current-day Fonda as the spouse of a powerful and dashing media mogul that I saw? Well, subliminal cues are one thing, but only a viewing of the movie revealed the heart of my illusion -- the romantic goop at the movie's core. Up Close and Personal is not unlike the last two Jane Fonda movies -- Old Gringo and Stanley and Iris -- in which the exploration of “issues” gets overtaken by a focus on the growing love affair between the film's lead characters. It's that warm, mushy center at what might otherwise be a hard-edged drama that makes Up Close and Personal most resemble the work of the pre-exercise video Fonda. Once upon a time, this movie may have started life as a Jessica Savitch bio-pic; whatever happened along the way, Up Close and Personal is not that any longer. As it stands now, the movie is a fictional romantic drama about an ambitious woman's rise from the trailer park to the network news anchor desk and the older male mentor who becomes her Svengali and lover. In some ways, the story bears a resemblance to last season's To Die For, but this version would instead be called To Live For. In fact, the movie's advertising tagline declares, “Every day we have is one more than we deserve.” Along the way, the story of how Pfeiffer's gawky duckling turns into a sophisticated swan gets sidetracked by a soft-focus love story about the swan's enchantment of the hard-bitten news goose (Redford). Here, the movie, which was scripted by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, turns all lovey-dovey, complete with soft-focus surf shots and other frolicsome reveries. During these sequences, the music swells and you almost expect Barbra Streisand to begin warbling some poignant theme music -- but no, it's Celine Dion. These are the moments that help identify the one movie (or movies, if you count the remakes) that Up Close and Personal resembles more than any other -- A Star Is Born. It's the old story of the male mentor who becomes overshadowed by his star pupil (and wife) and is thereby delivered to tragedy's doorstep. Perhaps that's what makes us anticipate a Streisand vocalization -- she played the swan in the 1976 remake of A Star Is Born. Surely, the reference couldn't be something as academic as the fact the Didion and Dunne also penned that remake. So, where does all this free association ultimately lead? Answer: Anywhere but Up Close and Personal.