A film review by Craig J. Koban November 19, 2010

MORNING GLORY jjj

2010, PG-13, 110 mins.

 

Becky: Rachel McAdams / Mike: Harrison Ford / Colleen: Diane Keaton / Jerry: Jeff Goldblum / Adam: Patrick Wilson / Lenny: John Pankow / Ernie: Matt Malloy / Becky's mom: Patti D'Arbanville

Directed by Roger Michell / Written by Aline Brosh McKenna.

Rachel McAdams is an effervescent cauldron of unlimitedly perkiness and dimpled adorability all throughout MORNING GLORY, and she – along with the rest of her well realized supporting cast – demonstrates how a zippy and charming performance can effortlessly override a film’s mediocre and cliché-ridded script.  

This Canuck-born lass is just a luminous force of nature here: the camera loves her knee-buckling looks, her smile warms over the most tired and perfunctory of moments, and she has a spunky vivaciousness that’s borderline infectious.  When she’s on screen we are drawn to her and don’t look away: this is the stuff that movie stardom is made of, and MORNING GLORY shows McAdams, perhaps more than any other film of her career, as a most glowing star, indeed. 

McAdams plays Becky, an insanely ambitious New Jersey morning TV show producer that rises at 1:30 a.m. everyday just so she can begin her arduous day.  The show she oversees is small in stature and very little seen by the viewing public, but Becky is irreproachably prideful of her profession and takes it as seriously as any other big news producer gig.  One day she is called into her boss’ office where she expects to be on the receiving end of a life fulfilling promotion up the show’s creative ranks, but she is crestfallen when she discovers that she is being let go due to cutbacks and that a more experienced overseer has been hired.  She is not given much solace even with the kind words of support her employer gives her, who refers to her at one point as the “best producer he’s ever fired.” 

Yet, Becky is a textbook optimist, so instead of wallowing in a pool of self-pity and loathing she goes on the fierce offensive and sends out resumes everywhere until she gets a biter in the form of Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum, satisfyingly Goldblum-esque in his brief role), who is an executive of at IBS that produces a rival morning news show called Daybreak.  The show, alas, is on death’s door and looks poised for cancellation at any time, so he is looking to find yet another producer replacement in hopes on injecting some much needed freshness and sass into the production in order to propel ratings.  Becky is inexperienced and somewhat naïve, but she nonetheless allows her inner drive, fanatical confidence, and desperation to secure a job convince her to take it…no real questions asked. 

To say that her first few days on Daybreak are exasperatingly grueling is a gross understatement.  Firstly, she is really turned down by the terrible lack of funding for the program (they cannot even afford new doorknobs on the office doors) and her initial run-ins with the show’s anchors are anything but quant.  The male anchor (a hysterically creepy Ty Burrell) seems to display a fetishistic attraction to a part of Becky’s anatomy (and I’m not talking the T or the A) that causes her to fire him on her first day, and her first encounter with the diva-like eccentricities of the show’s female anchor, Colleen Park (a wickedly droll and letter perfect Diane Keaton) lets Becky know, in no uncertain terms, that she does not like her or her new ideas for the show.  Colleen also seems miffed when it appears that Becky will have to find yet another co-anchor to sit by her side on a morning basis. 

It does not take too long for Becky to have an epiphany: she once idolized Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) as a Dan Rather-esque nightly news icon that has long since left the head anchor desk at IBS' most respected evening news program.  Unfortunately, Mike was unceremoniously terminated from his highly prized anchor job and has long since retired, essentially doing very little while still being paid via his large IBS contract.  Becky, being cunningly quick-witted, decides to read through his contract and notices a loophole that essentially forces Mike to return to IBS on Daybreak.  Apparently, if he were to turn down any IBS job offer then his payouts would abruptly end.  This really pisses off the gravel voiced and cantankerous newsman, seeing as he feels that a low-grade, fluff-centric morning TV show is far beneath his standards.  Yet, he begrudgingly takes the job, mostly because he likes money too much. 

Initially, Becky thinks that the legendary status of Mike mixed with the feistiness of Colleen will make Daybreak an overnight hit, but it’s clear that Mike’s gargantuan ego and vanity will not allow him to reduce himself to the types of stories Becky wants him to do, not to mention that Mike’s chauvinistic behaviour towards Colleen and her utter condemnation of him makes the pair an unhealthy fire and gas mixture on screen.  Ratings soon take a nosedive and Becky is given an ultimatum to rebound the show’s image and ratings in six weeks, or face cancellation.  Realizing that she needs a miracle, Becky pulls throws out the rule book and goes for broke with some truly devious ideas that just may give Daybreak the boost it needs to endure on network TV. 

I have already commented on the delectably bouncy spirit of McAdams in the film, and there is rarely a moment in MORNING GLORY where she is anything but captivating and winning.  Her impulsively eager-to-please boisterous gives the film a blustery momentum that lesser young actresses couldn’t achieve, but it’s easy to simplistically look at her friskiness and not notice how sturdy McAdams really is here at playing the smaller, introspective moments.  I like how she performs to Becky’s unending cheerfulness alongside showing her as a flawed, susceptible, and oftentimes naïve person in over her head.    

What’s kind of intriguing in MORNING GLORY is that, at its core, the script (by THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA’s Aline Brosh McKenna) is really a romcom – albeit a platonic one – between the aging and perpetually grumpy anchorman and the new kid on the block producer and how they eventually come to learn more about the news profession - and themselves - from the respective other.  Mike is inflexibly pig-headed when it comes to what he thinks is “real news” and Becky, on the other hand, feels perpetually blindsided by Mike's inability to take on a new career path.  It’s that generation clash between the old and the new that creates much of the comedic intrigue in MORNING GLORY, even when the screenplay does go down predictable paths with showing the icy and deplorably anti-social Mike eventually thawing to Becky’s charm and resiliency. 

And – hip, hip, hooray! – how euphoric is it to see Harrison Ford rise from the forgettable, mind-numbing banality of many of his recent roles (EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES, anyone?) and fully emerge in one of his freshest performances in years as Mike Pomeroy?  Ford certainly is not getting any younger: At 68, he’s not handsome leading man material anymore and has lately underplayed played roles with a such a slow, methodical, and raspy voiced timbre that, more often than not, it appears that he’s phoning in his performances with minimal effort.   Some critics have complained that Ford does not seem to acknowledge that he’s in a comedy in MORNING GLORY, but they miss the boat altogether: he’s not going out of his way to play up to the comedy – his obtusely brooding and forcefully intimidating mug that never breaks its stone cold and penetrating stare is precisely what makes Mike such a riot in the film (like, for instance, how he snarls Dick Cheney's name at one point through his clenched teeth).  Watch how Ford impeccably gives stern reaction shots to the ludicrousness of what transpires on Daybreak or how he creates a sort of unforced chemistry with Keaton where they display great fondness for despising one another.   It’s odd, because Ford does not so much reinvent himself here as much as he just rejuvenates himself.  If you exclude the last INDIANA JONES film, Ford has not been this gratifyingly watchable in a role in nearly a decade.  Plus, could any other actor alive look directly at the camera with a sullen disposition and say the term "fluffy" as dryly as him?

The film, sadly, has issues, like a terminally boring and one-note romantic subplot involving Becky and a fellow producer, played nicely by Patrick Wilson, but in a woefully underwritten role (when will filmmakers truly harness the gifts this actor displayed in films like HARD CANDY and LITTLE CHILDREN?).  Comparisons between MORNING GLORY and other news-centric films like BROADCAST NEWS and NETWORK seems both inevitable and perhaps a bit unfair, yet there is a darker message that comes to the forefront in MORNING GLORY that BROADCAST NEWS warned us all about: how flashy ratings trump substantial intellectual pursuits in news broadcasting.  It’s very peculiar that Becky grew up worshiping Mike for the type of solemn and intelligent newsman he was at the prime of his career, but she now seems giddy about turning him into ratings puppet for the lame and trivialized news stories he detests.  That turn for the Mike character – his acceptance of this reality – feels like MORNING GLORY’s most force-fed and incredulous arc, but the film remains a wonderfully zippy, funny, and inspired character-based workplace comedy, which is refreshingly not a dime-a-dozen today.  And, yes, the unthinkable pair of McAdams and Ford elevates this film at every turn, not to mention that playing a pretentious asshole/windbag was just the thing that Ford needed to jumpstart his floundering career.   

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