The Boston newspaper Mainline has been around since the sixties when it was an underground publication, but still holds its fiercely independent ideals dear, which makes the rumours going around the staff all the more worrying for them. Today they arrive for their usual morning meeting, and Harry Lucas (John Heard) tries to put across his latest idea for an article, though the editor is growing less and less impressed with the material this once-hotshot reporter is coming up with. Anyway, he is more distracted by the advertising man who tells him resources are running thin...
This ensemble comedy drama with a hefty dose of romance, if you could call how the men treat their women here romantic, was a significant cult movie of the seventies whose allure seemed to wear off the further time went on. Directed by Joan Micklin Silver, her follow-up Chilly Scenes of Winter proved to be more enduring, but for the fans of that Between the Lines nevertheless contained much to interest them, being as it was very much in the same style and hitting the same emotional marks. It was just that here, in Fred Barron's screenplay, there were more characters to take into consideration when if he'd stuck with one, or one couple, it might have been a more satisfying experience.
Still, watching how Silver and her cast of up and coming talent handled the duties of keeping the plates spinning was an entertainment in itself, and the rapport and interaction the characters shared was at once typical of what a seventies indie movie would offer, and a pointer to the way that indie movies of the future would develop. As he was top billed, you could regard Heard as the leading player, but there were others who received as much screen time, such as his uncertain girlfriend Abby (Lindsay Crouse) who is the photographer on the paper, or Stephen Collins' aspiring novelist Michael who is Harry's rival in self-absorption, though then again everyone here was so wrapped up in themselves that it's a wonder they notice anyone else.
This goes to such an extent that we hardly even see them doing their jobs, such was the focus on quasi-soap opera melodrama which Silver got away with because these people were a lot hipper than the sort you would see daily on daytime television. So obsessed with their own little world are these journalists that you can scarcely believe they would have an interest in reporting on anything outside that bubble: Jeff Goldblum was very amusing as the rock critic who we see hold a seminar in one scene which consists of him bullshitting his way through an hamfisted analysis of music to a group of politely silent, note-taking young women. Therefore it's difficult to get a sense of the environment they are all meant to be recording, leaving this with good potential for a sitcom.
Harry's waning powers of writing are illustrated in a sequence where he investigates the Boston stripping scene and tries to interview one such exotic dancer (Marilu Henner, just before she did Taxi on TV) only for Abby to devise far more insightful questions than Harry can. Gwen Welles was another underappreciated woman, Laura, Michael's girlfriend who has to make decisions based on what he wants rather than what's best for her, so it's dispiriting to see Harry coax her into his bed during her moment of confusion. But then, for all their resistable qualities, there will be a bit of business which makes you warm to them, to see that they're not so bad and that their ideals were something which shaped them, though ironically those very principles appear and disappear when it suits them, so when a corporate takeover looms, we don't know if we're supposed to think it's for the best when the paper will survive, or if it's the end of an era. Those with an interest in that era will be captivated. Music by Michael Kamen.