'Morning Glory': Wake Us When It's Over
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
In order to fuel its phony, mostly unfunny narrative, "Morning Glory" advertises itself as a sharp comedy -- recycled body parts courtesy of "Broadcast News" -- about the death of hard news in an over-mediated environment that seeks only to amuse the masses to death. But first and foremost, the movie, as penned by Aline Brosh McKenna ("The Devil Wears Prada"), was clearly cooked up to sell Rachel McAdams as another Anne Hathaway, a spunky innocent abroad in shark-filled professional waters. Whip up all these bits and pieces from previous box-office hits into a candy-colored curd, all air and no substance, and you've got "Morning Glory," a steaming dish of "repellent moxie."
Repellent moxie is what our heroine Becky possesses a surfeit of, according to Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), legendary news anchor and "third-worst person in the world." As newly hired executive producer of "Daybreak," a network morning TV show with next to no ratings, Becky demonstrates her take-charge moxie with a vengeance. After firing a lounge-lizard anchor with a foot fetish (Ty Burrell, fleetingly funny), she uses a contractual loophole to drag recalcitrant curmudgeon Pomeroy out of retirement and force him to share the monitor with Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), veteran queen of early-morning fluff pieces. The ups and mostly downs that follow play like weekly episodes in a sitcom almost entirely devoid of comic zing or consistency.
McAdams' performance is so tweakin' frantic, it looks to be driven by Tourette's syndrome aggravated by a meth high. Desperate to be loved by the camera and us, she fast-forwards through a repertoire of infantile cutisms that backfire big-time. Squealing and dancing through Rockefeller Plaza after landing her dream job, she looks like an over-medicated Mary Tyler Moore. But on her worst day, MTM wouldn't have indulged in McAdams' perfect storm of twitchy mannerisms: McAdams babbles, blows stringy hair off her face, literally hops in place, drops stuff, bumps into everything, scritches up her face like a 5-year-old. "I hate spunk," you want to scream, reprising Lou Grant's exasperation with Mary Richards' blitzkrieg of perkiness.
Hard to care about the career success of a young woman who's more Energizer Bunny than creature of flesh and blood and human feelings. Even our Candida's obligatory love affair -- with a "smokin'" hot producer (Patrick Wilson, inert) -- goes by in a flash: a drink, a tête-à-tête, wham-bam thank you ma'am, and presto! the two are bonded for life. Boob Tube love in the fast lane.
But what's equally responsible for blighting "Morning Glory" is Harrison Ford's dead-in-the-water performance. In large measure, Becky's success -- and whatever wisdom she's meant to glean from her rite of passage in TV land -- hangs on her relationship with the crusty old newsman. As Pomeroy's character goes, so goes the movie. The role's potentially a juicy one, inviting the kind of grouch-and-charm offensive that Spencer Tracy or Ed Asner or Jack Nicholson could carry off with one hand tied behind them. The key to memorable curmudgeonry is projecting credible crust and crankiness while simultaneously leaking potential warmth and charm through chinks in the armor. It's a delicate seduction, and Mr. Ford doesn't know from delicacy. Again and again, he hammers McAdams and Keaton with heavy-handed nastiness and graceless grumping. No witty sparring here; he's just bitter and boring, and pretty quick we don't care whether his inner charisma ever "blooms." Whatever love-hate chemistry a pro like Nicholson might have generated with the effervescent Keaton is way outside Ford's comfort zone. He's just not worth perky Becky's trouble -- or ours.
In a rare moment of repose, Becky mulls over a tempting offer to join the "Today" show, flashing on the people she's worked with at "Daybreak" during her superhuman effort to resuscitate the morning show's ratings. These snapshots of folks she claims have become her "family" are emotional duds. We hardly recognize most of these strangers, because they've never been truly differentiated as memorably funny or quirky individuals. "Morning Glory" might have been saved by crack ensemble work on the order of "30 Rock" or "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." But who cares about the little people when it's all about McAdams and Ford walking off into the sunset together, pretending to have earned their comedic chops. It's a TV commercial, selling us on the pretty illusion that something significant and chuckle-worthy has happened during the previous 90 minutes.
"Morning Glory" will satisfy audiences trained to swallow this kind of dumb, soulless comedy as feel-good soma. It is what it's about - kissing frogs for ratings, entertainment that panders to the lowest common denominator.
Kathleen Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool.") She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kathleen's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.