Clearly conceived as a companion piece to Broadcast News, another portrait of a few intense individuals in a one-company town, writer-director-coproducer James L. Brooks's comedy about Hollywood—initially an eccentric musical until the responses of preview audiences led Brooks to eliminate all but one of the musical numbers—is a fascinating if fairly discontinuous collection of fragments. It's maddening that Brooks uncritically embraces some of the worst aspects of status quo capitalism (such as ideological manipulation and crippling short-term strategies like test marketing) while turning moral crusader over small local infractions (newscaster William Hurt faking tears in Broadcast News, or here studio executive Joely Richardson caving in to group pressure during a casting decision and trashing her own lover, character actor Nick Nolte). Maybe he should hand out the Irving G. Thalberg Award on Oscar night, though it must be admitted that his feeling for neurotic quirks and their interactions—observable in his comic portraits of a grasping mother (Tracey Ullman), a boorish producer (Albert Brooks), and a blunt audience-opinion researcher (Julie Kavner), among others—is often exhilarating. More uneven is the charting of the character actor's bonding with his bratty six-year-old daughter (Whittni Wright), which reportedly reflects Brooks's own adventures in parenting. Though it's hard to see how the full musical version could ever have been successful, even as a failure the original cut might have been more interesting than this tantalizing, frustrating substitute.
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