Did any of you see this film when it was released last year (if you’re in Europe, or late 2010 in the US)? Probably not. It only just made back its budget. It is worth picking up out of that pile though, and I’ll tell you why…
It’s not what you’re thinking
Becky Fuller is a rising star as a producer in morning television. After being laid off from her local New Jersey station, she manages to finagle her way into a job on the national show DayBreak in NYC. The only problem is that DayBreak is the fourth-rated daily show and is in serious danger of being cancelled. Can Becky bring about a new dawn for DayBreak [sorry]?
At last! A (kind of) romantic comedy that is actually funny! Built around a female lead character that is smart and capable and beautiful, but can’t keep a man because she’s married to her job instead of through some random personality quirk! One of the most hateful films I have seen during this year – in fact one of the most hateful films I have seen ever – was The Ugly Truth, which shares some conceptual DNA with Morning Glory. But where The Ugly Truth was needlessly crude and crushingly unfunny, Morning Glory hews more to the old-fashioned model where the jokes come organically from the interaction of the characters instead of whatever wacky contrivance the screenwriter pulled out of their ass that morning*. The clues are in the names really. That one was ugly, this is just a bit glorious.
The poster for this flick is a touch misleading. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is an ensemble piece, but in actuality this is a “Rachel McAdams and friends” movie. Almost never off-screen, the former Hot Chick owns this whole film from the first shot to the last, and it’s the varying relationships she has with the mostly male supporting cast that show how fully realised Becky is as a character. The best of which is with Harrison Ford as veteran news anchor Mike Pomeroy, who Becky essentially blackmails into taking over as co-host after firing the incumbent – a splendidly pervy Ty Burrell – on her first day. When they first meet in an elevator she’s the gushing fangirl and he’s the brusque elder statesman of TV news but by the end of film, well, that would be telling. Suffice it to say that they run the gamut. In fact, despite Patrick Wilson’s presence as fellow producer Adam, Becky and Mike is the real love story at the heart of the movie. Theirs is the pairing that hits all the expected rom-com story beats, although Adam is the one she strips down to her smalls with.
One minor niggle I had with this flick, which would ordinarily be a bit of a deal-breaker if I’m honest, is the lack of any real antagonist. Sure, Becky has to win Mike over, and her boss Jerry (Jeff Goldblum playing himself as usual) is a bit of a prick at times but neither of them is actively working against our heroine. The only opposing force that creates any sense of peril is the rather nebulous “ratings”. Drama is conflict, so the saying goes, and by that rationale Morning Glory is a touch lacking in drama. The fact that this is not a deal-breaker is solely thanks to Rachel McAdams herself. After having been the best thing in a string of ensemble films and romance novel adaptations, this is her first honest-to-God lead and she knocks it right over the fence. I could write another couple of hundred words about how beautiful she is, bandying about words like “incandescent” and “revelatory” but not without getting a bit too close to the stalker line for comfort. McAdams displays a gift for physical comedy that was hinted at back in her breakout movie Mean Girls but she hasn’t really had the chance to capitalise on since. She is completely fearless and carries this film in every scene. The lady is a movie star; it’s that simple.
Among her backup dancers, Diane Keaton is a hoot as Colleen Peck, the long-running co-anchor of Daybreak. Her duet with 50 Cent on Candyshop is something that I never thought I would live to see. Keaton and Ford have such easy chemistry together that it’s hard to believe they hadn’t even met before starting this film, never mind worked together. John Pankow plays well off McAdams as Lenny, the show’s senior producer and Becky’s right hand. The two develop a quick friendship as soon as Becky takes the job, which becomes almost brother/sister-like as the film progresses. You always get your money’s worth when Patrick Wilson is in your movie but unfortunately for him, his romantic subplot is a bit sidelined by the Becky/Mike relationship. Worse than that though is the fact that Adam as written is one of the most one-note characters I’ve seen in a while. Yes, he’s charming and handsome and successful but he’s mostly just there. He’s basically a cypher, only present to give Becky a love interest without any sort of character development himself. It doesn’t help that he works on a different show for the same network, so he doesn’t even get to be a part of the roundtable production meeting scenes. In fact there are only a couple of scenes where he interacts with anyone except just Becky.
And then there’s Mike. Mike Pomeroy is the best role Harrison Ford has had in years. He’s a grumpy old coot, but with depths that Ford hints at throughout; sadness and bitterness at being considered past his prime, no longer getting the jobs and the stories that he feels he deserves, even the state of TV news in general. Unfortunately this last is a great missed opportunity in Aline Brosh McKenna’s script. The oft-decried dumbing-down of broadcast news in America is a story that is ripe for the telling. But where she could have been scathingly incisive, McKenna instead opts for a breezy wit. The film is fun and entertaining to be sure but it could have been a stone classic, spoken of twenty years from now in the same breath as Network and Broadcast News.
Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) is on safe territory with a story like this, but to be fair there isn’t really much call for any extravagance in the visuals. Saying that though, the final shot is gorgeous; two of our characters walking down the middle of a deserted street into the sunrise of Manhattanhenge (Google it). Morning Glory is one of the most downright likable films I have watched in a while, thanks to a dynamite leading lady, a classy supporting cast and a witty and frequently hilarious script. At 107 minutes, it never outstays its welcome. This is that rare thing: a comedy-romance that both guys and girls can enjoy together.
*In case it slipped your attention, I really didn’t like that film.