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"Fun, adventure, romance on $75.00 a week"
Released in the midst of the heyday of one of the greatest decades of American cinema BETWEEN THE LINES is one of those films that has sadly fallen through the cracks with each passing decade (a fate that's sadly befallen many a wonderful film from this decade), but a recent restoration along with selected play dates and a spanking new Blu-ray released by Cohen Film Collection will hopefully remedy this.
Directed by Joan Micklin Silver and written by Fred Barron, it features a wonderful ensemble cast of up & comers with a few who have sadly left us much too soon. Dealing with relationships and coming to terms with a changing world, it's at the core a newspaper movie for which I've always had a certain fondness. Silver who had directed HESTER STREET in 1977 and would follow this up with CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER (1979) and CROSSING DELANCEY (1988), was one of that wonderful group of women directors who emerged during this period who while getting some attention and major work always just a bit off the mainstream and included Joan Tewkesbury (OLD BOYFRIENDS) and Elaine May (THE HEARTBREAK KID) among others.
Its 1977 and the staff at The Back Bay Mainline, a Boston-based underground newspaper, are dealing with the trials and tribulations of a changing world and on-again and off-again romances. With Nixon gone, the Vietnam War ended, and the radicals of the 1960's now moving toward 30 years old and feeling there are no more battles left to fight. The staff seems to either on their way out, treading water, or with a few hopefuls may be on their way up.
Harry (John Heard) was once the star reporter of the paper but simply seems to be going through the motions while his sometimes girlfriend and the paper's photographer Abbie (Lindsay Crouse) still has a determination to elevate her career. She reminds him that he won a journalism award for an expose on nursing homes and she tries to goad him into a new story as the homes are being investigated again but he replies, "It isn't exciting anymore" and "nothing changed before"
Michael (Stephen Collins) who rose to fame writing stories on the hippie movement is now writing a novel based upon that time and is already acting like a condescending jerk as talks like he's reading from press releases while his long-suffering live-in girlfriend Laura (Gwen Collins) works two jobs to support them both.
Max (lovingly played by Jeff Goldblum) is the paper's music critic and spends most of his time complaining about his low pay (it's from him the tag line concerning $75.00 most applies) while selling off the promo albums he gets for cash and lecturing in front of groups of rapt teenage female music students about The Beatles and Wallace Stevens. Dressed in late 70's baggy clothing (for which most of his money seems to go) is forever railing against the establishment but is the first one to sell out when the time comes.
Although he gets an appearance in the opening credits hustling papers on the street ("hippie smut!!"), lurking in the background is a scene-stealing Michael J. Pollard as the office boy/gopher (he appears to sleep there on the floor) while a corduroy suited Bruno Kirby plays the hustling young reporter looking for his first big break and overseeing this cast of characters if the editor Frank (John Korkes - who had appeared in the 1974 newspaper comedy THE FRONT PAGE).
The receptionist Lynn (Jill Eikenberry) who while initially appearing to be just the surrogate mother for most of the staff but is shown to have the most convictions of anybody there. Looming over everything & everybody is the potential of the paper to a national chain with the Mainline publisher Wheeler (Richard Cox) and the advertising salesman Stanley (Lewis J. Stadlen) representing the "the man". Some of the scenes with Stanley are a bit to broad comedy-wise as a sequence with Frank is a bit uncomfortable as Frank physically manhandles him in a dispute over advertising space.
Although episodic-like an Altman film, BETWEEN THE LINES, takes its time with many of the sequences allowing us to really get to know the various participants (although we really could use some more Michael J. Pollard) and the film works best (for me at least) when it concentrates on the newspaper drama rather than the relationships and bed-hopping that take up the middle of the film. Although not a female-orientated plot the women here do have most of the drive and gumption and they seem to be the actual driving force behind keeping the paper alive with Gwen Collin's character Laura being the one we really want to see exert herself and get rid of the sanctimonious Michael.
There's a wonderful scene where Abbie accompanies Harry to interview a stripper (a wonderfully feisty & lovable pre-TAXI Marilu Henner) and she shows him up by asking the more pertinent questions which cause him to resent her. There's a long sequence at a bar with a Southside Johnny and The Asbury Jukes that gives all the characters opportunities to shine with Jeff Goldblum talking up two young groupies (did Southside Johnny have groupies??). Goldblum is marvelous as the music critic (we never actually see him or anybody else working on a story except for Harry's stripper interview) but all along hustling for loans and free drugs. He does get the chance however to help save Bruno Kirby from a violent confrontation as a result of a story he's been pursuing and it's a really great redemption to finally see him stand up for something with conviction. His character is reminiscent of THE BIG CHILL and one could easily picture music critic Max becoming People magazine writer Michael.
The entire cast is excellent with John Heard showing what a criminally underappreciated actor he was and it's interesting to see Michael Collins in a non-nice guy role (he has just appeared as Hugh Sloan in ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN) and Jill Eikenberry really shines in her too-brief role as the receptionist.
The film was written by Fred Barron who worked on several underground papers and the film while mostly interior bound does feature some Boston scenery.
All above screen caps are from the MGM MOD DVD