Morning Glory is a juggernaut. It has one directive: make the audience fall in love with Rachel McAdams by all means necessary. Though it also has smaller agendas based around selling the latter-day incarnation of Harrison Ford as a lovable curmudgeon and Diane Keaton as a harried aging diva, the film is an engine for McAdams. Though she’s showcased her range before there’s never been role in which the actress has been asked to fumble and bumble and be irresistible in nearly every scene of a movie. It’s a lot to stomach at times, reaching a few moments where the sugar is laid on too thick but there’s no doubt that from a certain perspective this is her Pretty Woman turn. Imagine the effortless perkiness Sarah Jessica Parker showcased in LA Story married with the confidence and poise of Holly Hunter in Broadcast News and you’ll have an idea of the cocktail McAdams is mixing. It’s pretty hard not to succumb just as long as you realize how much you’re being manipulated.
When we meet McAdams’ Becky she’s failing miserably on a first date, a side effect of her being married to her career as a producer on a New Jersey morning talk show. It’s her entire life, one which is pulled abruptly from her when she’s inexplicably laid off. As a result she’s forced to take a job in Manhattan on the absolute worst network morning show [her boss is Jeff Goldblum in a role that utilizes zero of his skills] in the city known for its successful morning shows. It’s a thankless job but it allows her to finally run a show on her own.
She’s inherited a cast of misfits ranging from the goofy weatherman [In the Company of Men‘s Matt Malloy, who gets a lot of big comic moments] to the elitist anchor [Ty Burrell] to the dumb-as-stone pretty face [J. Elaine Marcos] and one can see the stereotypes pulsating and ready to strike. Luckily, the film doesn’t dwell too much on these characters and quickly does away with the fish out of water aspect as Becky begins to assert her wishes. Morning Glory doesn’t seem as interested in mining the sitcom laughs from an audience as it does in putting an interesting trio of stars together and seeing what happens.
When Becky meets her idol, Mike Pomeroy [Ford] in the elevator the seeds are planted for her to bring him onto the shop to co-anchor with Keaton’s Colleen Peck and breathe life into their deflated show. Pomeroy is a legendary newsman with dozens of awards who’s locked into a massive contract and lazily riding it out in a haze of expensive booze and condescension. He’s a codger who loathes the kind of morning programming Becky’s involved in and scoffs at the idea of lowering his standards even further than he has. After finding fine print in his contract, our heroine forces him to join the show lest he forfeit millions of dollars. It’s kind of shady catalyst for a crowd pleasing film, but it sets the stage for the thrust of the film. And a crowd pleaser it is. The audience I saw it with couldn’t get enough of it, eating up every joke and taking the bait like malnourished crappies.
It’s light entertainment for sure and had the cast not been filled to the brim with great performers [John Pankow brings much needed warmth and Patrick Wilson always improves a film though it’s funny to see him playing the “girlfriend” role] it may have been the kind of movie we need less of. Instead it lives in a world between a generic romantic comedy and the kind of movies James L. Brooks makes. It’s not a bad mix and though there are no really great moments and the film is tied together with far to pretty a bow and far too fast at the climax, it’s a nice piece of mainstream entertainment. And it truly is a showcase for Rachel McAdams. She is a very rare blend of girl next door beauty and smarts and that sparkle in her eye is genuine.
The elephant in the room is Harrison Ford and his Mike Pomeroy. Having Ford in this film changes nearly everything about it, because he truly is a megastar at a major crossroads in his career and Pomeroy is very much in the same dilemma. Ford is no longer an action hero but he’s still a fantastic actor and when he actually chooses a role that suits him [Hollywood Homicide isn’t one of them] he’s capable of greatness. Pomeroy is a serious journalist whose ego has kept him from enjoying the benefits of his great life. Both are guys who seemingly get in the way of their own success. The marketing of the film paints this is a new facet to Harrison Ford, though in reality it is more of an extension of his underappreciated work in Sabrina and a punctuation on the kind of work he began with Working Girl. But it is wonderful to see his loosen up and though the film doesn’t seize the opportunity much, he and Diane Keaton play off each other quite well.
Roger Michell directed Notting Hill, the film that made me a fan of Julia Roberts in one fell swoop and one of the best romantic comedies in the past decade-plus. Since then his work has been less inspiring but his hand here offers a nice balance of easy laughs and class though the look and style of the film threw me. There’s a weird dichotomy at play where some really beautiful and richly realized bits of photography overlap with some very generic and bland shots that give the film an uneven vibe. I’m sure some of that can be attributed to the fact that the stuff taking place inside the rundown television studio has a really lived in feel and that the outside world is a rich canvas but not enough to make me wonder if this film was heavily reshot or tweaked on its long road to release.
But the film works for the most part, which is why this release date and low-key approach mystifies me. This is a Thanksgiving weekend kind of movie. A Christmas Day kind of movie. It’s a mainstream comedy with pedigree, a bit of commerce that doesn’t grow on trees. I has a very capable cast and a pretty new face [to the masses, not film fans who’ve been paying attention] doing very good work. It certainly has its share of bad choices [Goldblum being wasted, a lack of emotional punch, an unconvincing character shift for Pomeroy] but people left the theater happy. It actually works.
But this release date and this marketing campaign are going to kill it. Which is a shame for McAdams and Grandpa Ford.