Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1996. Touchstone Pictures, Cinergi Pictures Entertainment, Avnet/Kerner Productions. Screenplay by Joan Didion, John Gregory Dunne, based on the book Golden Girl: The Story of Jessica Savitch by Alanna Nash. Cinematography by Karl Walter Lindenlaub. Produced by Jon Avnet, Jordan Kerner, David Nicksay. Music by Thomas Newman. Production Design by Jeremy Conway. Costume Design by Albert Wolsky. Film Editing by Debra Neil-Fisher.
When Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne sold their script of Up Close And Personal, based on a biography of the late Jessica Savitch called Golden Girl, to Walt Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, they had no idea that they were in for seven years of script development hell. Savitch, an ambitious reporter who put female reporters (especially blonde ones) on the map by being among the very first women to be a network news anchor, had an unfortunate addiction to drugs and alcohol until she finally cleaned herself up (with no one’s assistance), only to tragically die in a car accident soon afterwards. Unfortunately, the folks at Disney didn’t think her story palatable enough to the average filmgoer, so after the many years of cutting and rewrites, the film found itself with a completely original story and the character with a brand new name. Now Michelle Pfeiffer is playing Tally Atwater, an ambitious news reporter who climbs up the ranks to become an anchor, while being pushed back and forth between her feelings for her conspicuously old boyfriend (Robert Redford), who himself gave her her first big break. The romantic melodrama that has emerged is not at all what Didion and Dunne originally wrote, and shame on Disney for perverting the story of a truly gifted and misunderstood woman in the interest of a general public that they continue to underestimate. However, the good news is that, should you not be aware of the film’s actual origins, you’ll probably find much to enjoy: the beautiful widescreen photography and dedicated feeling of romanticism all help, grounded by Pfeiffer who carries the film with her usual assurance. Supporting roles by Stockard Channing and Kate Nelligan are also huge pluses, but it’s still not about Jessica Savitch, so anyone interested in her tale should abandon this weepie and try to find the excellent made-for-television film Golden Girl: The Jessica Savitch Story starring an Emmy Award-nominated Sela Ward.