November 11, 2010

Morning Glory

Little lady, you're young enough to be my next wife

Grade: B –

Director: Roger Michell

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, and John Pankow

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes

The only convention Morning Glory defies is its early awards season release date. Anyone expecting an update of Broadcast News for the YouTube generation will have to settle for simulacrum that fun but “fluffy,” to borrow the script’s running word-gag. Indeed, South African director John Michell (Notting Hill, Venus) produces something that is a lot like the waning morning talk show at the story’s center: a contrivance occupying a once-vaunted medium that eschews the hard task of generating critical respect in order to take the path to quick and easy entertainment.

Rachel McAdams – who played a plucky news blogger in State of Play – plays Becky, a plucky television producer so devoted to her work (and sleep pattern) that she goes on afternoon dates and, even after being laid off from her job with an early morning show in New Jersey, still sets her alarm clock for 1:30 a.m. in order to watch the multiple TV monitors she sets-up in her bedroom.

Soon enough, Becky finds work with faux-TV network IBS, where the head of programming (Jeff Goldblum) taps her with the challenge of reviving Daybreak, its atrophied and perpetually cellar-dwelling morning program. Impeding this mini-Mary Tyler Moore making it after all is competition from GMA and the Today Show, a miniscule budget, a seemingly inept crew, and diva co-hosts Colleen Puck (Diane Keaton), an aging ex-beauty queen, and foot-fetishing Paul McVee (Ty Burrell).

After firing Paul during her first day on the job, Becky cajoles and semi-blackmails the services of Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a Pulitzer/Emmy-winning veteran newsman under contract with IBS but languishing in semi-retirement after being pushed out of his evening news anchor’s chair. Described as the “third-worst person in the world” behind Kim Jong-il and Angela Lansbury – “She knows what she did,” says Adam (Patrick Wilson), Becky’s fellow producer and budding romance – Pomeroy is a relic who still yearns to do serious news but is trapped in a TV universe where ratings define relevance.

The denizens of Morning Glory are a collection of inglorious caricatures, sometimes made intolerable by the actors typecast to play them. The talented McAdams shines, even if she plays Becky as an indefatigable flibbertigibbet with bangs who would be better suited to a 1930s screwball comedy. Keaton continues her post-50 histrionic dingbat period – seeing her gyrate on set with the rapper 50 Cent as he performs the five-year-old “Candy Shop” is outdated on multiple levels. And, anyone lucky enough to miss “Extraordinary Measures” can still see what happens when the already grumpy old Ford plays a character written to be cantankerous – hint: there’s lots of growling and furrowed brows.

But, disliking the characters or on-air talent does not necessarily doom a show – how else to explain American Idol? Morning Glory possesses an innocuous charm that becomes infectious once you set aside any preconceived hope that the film will offer clever cultural commentary, media satire, or even a well-written romantic subplot. This is mainstream moviemaking at its most digestible – pass the frittatas.

Neil Morris

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