What started out as a biopic about the short, tragic life of NBC newswoman Jessica Savitch evolved into a glossy blend of A Star Is Born and Pygmalion that evoked several of leading man Robert Redford’s past roles – a little Jay Gatsby, a little Hubbell Gardiner, and a lot of Bob Woodward.
Here, he’s the grandly named Warren Justice, a down-on-his-luck newsman who discovers and molds Tally Atwater (Michelle Pfeiffer) into his ticket back to the big time. He keeps advising her to be true to herself, even though that self is a persona he invented for her. Soon, he falls in love with his creation, and he guides her to success, most notably, in a sequence where she finds herself covering a prison riot live from the inside.
She becomes a star, while he goes off to cover a war in Latin America. He gets killed doing what he loves (c’mon, that’s no spoiler, a Redford hero usually dies before the credits roll), allowing her a “This Is Mrs. Norman Maine” moment at a national newscasters’ banquet. Cue the Celine Dion ballad and bring on the Kleenex. Meanwhile, maybe someone can unearth the first draft of John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion’s screenplay; the far grimmer and more lurid story of Savitch is still waiting for the big-screen treatment.
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