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Morning Glory

November 14, 2010

Morning Glory

Morning Glory is billed as a romantic comedy, but that doesn’t really capture it. It’s really a straight-up, grown-up comedy that happens to have a woman in the lead.

Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) is a producer on a New Jersey morning news show. She’s eaten, breathed, and slept broadcast news since she was sight, and twenty years later she’s still trying to make a go of it. Her confidence is shaken when the station lets her go, but Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum) offers her a position as executive producer on Day Break — the New York-based morning show for the IBS network, currently tanking in the ratings behind The Today Show, Good Morning America, and “whatever CBS does” (The Early Show). She has to turn the show’s fortunes around, managing washed-up beauty queen Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), washed-up hard news anchor Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), and a whole team of demoralized oddballs (J. Elaine Marcos, Matt Malloy).

On the plus side, she has the support of director Lenny Bergman (John Pankow) and of Adam Bennett (Patrick Wilson), who produces a successful news magazine for IBS. Adam serves as the love interest, but that’s actually sort of incidental. He’s really more there as a friendly voice of reason to keep Becky on an even keel. The movie isn’t about her relationship with him; it’s about her relationship with herself.

And Rachel McAdams handles the role with the aplomb Becky must learn to bring to her job. She’s charming, and she embraces an easy physicality that communicates as much about her character as anything she says. She handles the smart dialogue with a smarter delivery, and her excitement over living out her childhood dream lights up the screen. It would be a real pleasure just watching her work.

But of course she isn’t alone. Diane Keaton does a great job as Colleen, although the older, well put-together, professional woman has become a bit of a stock character for her. Still she gamely throws herself into all manner of bizarre soft news stories, from taking on a sumo wrestler in her own sumo suit to kissing a live frog. And she expertly makes the staple pivot from screaming at her co-anchor to smiling for the camera just as it goes live.

For his part, Harrison Ford plays up the gruff gravitas in his anchor persona. I can see why he stubbornly refuses to drop it on the morning show, but his affectless delivery is a bit jarring when he’s speaking off camera, even when getting drunk with Morley Safer, Chris Matthews, and Bob Schieffer. I get that Mike lives his on-screen role as much as Becky does hers, but I’m not sure what Roger Michell was thinking in that bit of direction. Still, he’s sardonic and acerbic, just as befits “the third worst person in the world”.

Aline McKenna’s screenplay is key to the whole effort. It’s smart and funny, if not always the most original. The ending is pretty much preordained, and Mike’s hidden lighter side — there has to be one — is telegraphed early on. It’s never quite clear why Becky doesn’t try to carve out a space for Mike’s style and use that to negotiate some concessions from him, but it feels like that scene may have ended up on the cutting-room floor. Still, the dialogue snaps without lapsing into stock phrases even if the script as a whole does fall back on some stock scenes.

Cute and amusing, Morning Glory is an entertaining charmer that sidesteps the usual cheap laughs and brings us a smile from the heart.

Worth it: yes.
Bechdel test: pass.

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