Joan Micklin Silver and Fred Barron's ingratiating comedy about youthful lives in Boston, a town with a heavy concentration of universities, is also a portrait of '60s idealism dashed by the political and business realities of the late '70s. The film also proved to be a launching pad for the careers of a number of talented actors, all of them making memorable impressions here. Anyone who has ever worked at their first real job in an office full of idealistic young people knows the intoxicating joys of professional camaraderie -- and how fleeting that experience can be. The paper that Harry, Abbie, Lynn, and Max work for is a victim of its success; they build up its credibility and infuse it with vitality, only to see the bean counters take over. But by 1977, the times they were a-changin', and the moral fervor that accompanied such issues as the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the rise of feminism was being replaced by the Saturday night fever of the disco era. Alternative weeklies like the one portrayed here still exist, some of them still fighting the good fight, but it's doubtful their staffs are as charming as the characters of Between the Lines.
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Director Joan Micklin Silver's follow-up to her acclaimed debut, Hester Street, is a more ambitious film that manages to be both an entertaining comedy and a pointed look at the corrupting power of money on an idealistic enterprise. Writer Fred Barron's characters are all associated with a weekly alternative newspaper in Boston, modeled after the Phoenix. (Silver did once work on the Village Voice, but this enterprise is several rungs below that esteemed paper.) Harry (John Heard) is an ambitious reporter romantically involved with Abbie (Lindsay Crouse), the paper's star photographer. Michael (Stephen Collins) is a writer trying to work on a novel and stay faithful to his loving wife, Laura (Gwen Welles), while Max (Jeff Goldblum), the paper's rock critic, shamelessly uses his job to try to pick up women. Lynn (Jill Eikenberry), a typist who is the paper's mother-hen figure, is also its most principled employee. When a publishing mogul (Lane Smith) buys the paper and promises changes that will compromise its aggressive political stance in favor of more "lifestyle" articles, Lynn resigns, and it's clear to the group that their carefree days are behind them.