Tag Archives: Holly Hunter

Miss Firecracker (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Entering a beauty contest.

Carnelle (Holly Hunter) lives in Yazoo City, Mississippi where she works in a factory and suffers from the reputation of being promiscuous. In order to improve her lot in life she decides to enter into The Miss Firecracker Contest, which is held annually in her town every 4th of July. She is hoping to emulate the success of her cousin Elain (Mary Steenburgen) who won the contest years earlier as well as proving to both herself and others that she isn’t a loser, but the competition proves harder than she thought forcing her to reevaluate what’s really important to her.

The film is based on the stageplay written by Beth Henley, who is better known for writing Crimes of the Heart, which won many accolades while this one didn’t. Part of the reason is that when this play was first produced in 1980 many critics thought it was going to be a pro-feminist satire poking fun of beauty contests, which it isn’t, while others disliked it because they perceived it as being an antifemist since Carnelle takes winning the contest very seriously.

For me I was expecting something along the lines of Smile, which was a very funny, on-target 1970’s look at beauty contests, the flawed people who run them, and the superficial women that enter them. I was thinking this would be an 80’s update to that one and was sorely disappointed to find that it wasn’t. The two people who run the contest, which are played by Ann Wedgeworth and Trey Wilson are hilarious in the few scenes that they are in and the film could’ve been a complete winner had they been the centerpiece of the story.

I was also hoping for more of buildup showing Carnelle rehearsing her routine for the pageant as well as her interactions with the other contestants, which doesn’t really get shown much at all. For the most part the pageant is treated like a side-story that only comes to the surface in intervals while more time is spent with Carnelle’s relationship with Elain and her other cousin Delmount (Tim Robbins) which I did not find captivating at all.

Hunter gives a very strong heartfelt performance, which is the one thing that saves it, and Alfre Woodard, who normally plays in dramatic parts, shows great comic skill as the bug-eyed character named Popeye and yet both of these actresses screen time is limited. Instead we treated to too much of Steenburgen, who comes off as cold and dull here, and Robbins, who plays a borderline psychotic that is creepy in a volatile way and not interesting at all.

First time director Thomas Schlamme, who had only directed documentaries and comedy specials  before this, employs a few things that I enjoyed like tinting the flashback scenes with a faded color, but overall he doesn’t show a good feel for the material. Too much of the time it see-saws from being a quirky comedy to maudlin soap opera, but nothing gels.

Even the film’s setting gets botched. In the play the town was  Brookhaven, Mississippi, but for whatever reason the film changed it to Yazoo City where the on-location shooting took place. While it does a nice job in capturing the town’s look it doesn’t reflect the right vibe, or any vibe at all for that manner as the townspeople seem more like something taken out of a surreal Norman Rockwell painting than real everyday folks.

The soundtrack is also an issue as it gets filled with a placid elevator music type score that got started in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin films and was played in a lot Hollywood comedies during the 80’s and 90’s. While it may have a pleasing quality to it also lacks distinction. The music should’ve had a more of a southern sound that would’ve reflected the region and composed specifically for this production instead of  stealing a generic tune that had been used in hundreds of other movies already.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 28, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Thomas Schlamme

Studio: Corsair Pictures

Available: DVD

Broadcast News (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life in a newsroom.

Jane (Holly Hunter) is a television news producer married to her work who breaks down crying when nobody is around. She starts falling for Tom (William Hurt) the good looking new anchorman even though he does not share her same drive or integrity. Aaron (Albert Brooks) is a behind-the-scenes news writer who wishes to get more exposure in front of the camera. Secretly he is in love with Jane and envies the budding relationship that he sees starting between her and Tom, but feels virtually powerless to do anything about it.

The film marks another tour-de-force effort by writer/director James L. Brooks who hits the nail-on-the-head in just about every scene when it comes to revealing the inner workings of a local TV newsroom. I found some of the procedures that are shown including how a producer can continue to feed the anchorman things to say through an earpiece even as he is live on the air and interviewing someone to be quite fascinating. From dealing with a harsh layoff of the news division to the extremes people are willing to go to get promoted prove to be quite insightful. Even the little things are interesting like watching two musicians (Glen Roven, Marc Shaiman) trying to plug their song as the new theme to the news show, which is probably the funniest moment in the movie.

Initially I was turned off by Hunter’s strong southern twang, you would think someone who wanted to make it big in Hollywood would’ve worked harder to soften that, but she gives such a strong all-around performance that eventually I was able to overlook it. I felt though that her character was more compelling when she was fretting about her work, which seemed almost like an obsession to her. Having her chase after a guy, who she really didn’t have much in common with anyways, was far less interesting. She seemed like someone who immersed herself in her job simply to avoid social contact and the film would’ve worked better had Tom been the one doing all the chasing.

Brooks was an odd casting choice. He’s a funny comedian and has done some great satires, but not someone who is warm and likable. The movie wants us to feel sorry for his character because he is always getting passed over both professionally and romantically, but I felt the opposite way about him.  His many sarcastic lines makes him seem bitter and vindictive and the way he screams at Jane to ‘get out’ when she confides with him about her feelings for Tom made him seem downright psychotic.

Director Brooks seems to have a personal vendetta against anchormen as his productions always portray then as being dumb and shallow most notably the Ted Baxter character in the ‘70s TV-series ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’, which he also produced. In that show the character’s stupidity was clearly over exaggerated, but here Tom gets played with a believable balance as he’s is savvy enough to make up for his lack of intelligence by overcompensating on his image.

I loved how the film starts off with vignettes of the characters when they were kids and then ending it by revealing where they end up 7 years after the main story ends, but overall the plot lacks any major impact. The whole thing is just too gentile and needed another dramatic arch to give it more verve. Jack Nicholson appears unbilled as the station’s top anchor and I would’ve loved seeing him become a major player in the story as he owns every scene he is in especially the part where he enters the newsroom to offer his condolences to those who were laid-off.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1987

Runtime: 2Hours 12Minutes

Rated R

Director: James L. Brooks

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube