Encumber a newsman with husbandly duties and he is utterly diminished.
"The Paper" is an up-to-the-minute reprise of "The Front Page" that is glib, generally enjoyable and not quite up to the targets it spoofs. Hecht and MacArthur's classic newspaper play was, by all accounts, a glorious capture of the frantic newsroom rhythms of a big city daily. Each time Hollywood tries a remake, they wrap the story in the sensibilities of the new day. The problem with this one is that the sensibilities of 1994 are anything but light and sophisticated. Ours is a humorless time.
"The Paper" is caught between 1930, when news was the lifeblood of reporters, and 1994, when the political correctness of "family values" dictates that they must have outside lives. Encumber a newsman with husbandly duties and he is utterly diminished. Whatever the old-timers did outside the newsroom, they certainly didn't take care of their children.
Within those mushy parameters, the cast does a good job. Michael Keaton plays Henry Hackett as a wiry, quick reporter sufficiently obsessed to steal a story off a desk at the "New York Sentinel" (a.k.a. "The New York Times") during a job interview, but culture-whipped to the point of having to eat dinner with his in-laws and be present for the birth of his child. The edge is gone.
Boss Bernie White (Robert Duvall) has a health problem and a decency that is disconcerting in tabloid politics. Managing editor Alicia Clark (Glen Close) is a classy, driven dame, a master in the competition for the exclusive. As McDougal, the hungover philosopher of the newsroom, Randy Quaid comes closest to the unencumbered sloth of our fantasies.
Marisa Tomei is very funny as Henry's vastly pregnant wife, a former ace reporter who knows her days are over: "Once you have kids, a man's best work is ahead of him. A woman's is past." At least they don't wrap that one in the bromides of today. Spaulding Gray gives a discomforting performance as the prototypical Sentinel/Times man with a mind that matches his buttoned-down surroundings. He makes us long for the grunge and clutter of tabloid life where screeching telephones and irreverent lingo make the whole thing sing. After all, which headline would make you smile: "Gotcha!" or "Nepal Premier Won't Resign."
These reporters talk in the sharp, quick bursts of their own headlines, rushing against deadline and plunging toward expediency while their pompous and righteous competitor lumbers toward integrity and restraint.
The film's resolution takes place in a hospital where the cultures of medicine and journalism meet in frenzied, comic contrast. It's doctors and reporters enslaved by crisis, Glen Close and Michael Keaton spinning out over their big story. They wrap every newsroom cliche in a blanket of excess as they try, yet again, to capture the wacky reality of producing a daily front page. That Hollywood tries it so often testifies to the fact that even when newspapers are held in lowest repute, they are the stuff of fantasy.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 490
Studio: Universal Studios
Copyright (c) Illusion
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