In a grim romantic-comedy landscape dominated by grouchy-face bores like Jennifer Aniston and Katherine Heigl, critic’s darling Rachel McAdams earns her raves by sheer accessibility. She’s got that ineffable quality that Julia Roberts once had back before megastardom made her brittle—that is to say, McAdams seems incapable of feeling an emotion without allowing us to watch it play marvelously across her face. It’s a terrible trait for poker but thrilling to see onscreen, and Roger Michell’s Morning Glory might finally be her long-predicted breakthrough to the A-List.
A cut above the usual rom-com tripe while still remaining several notches below the caliber of the talent involved, Morning Glory stars McAdams as a workaholic daytime TV producer saddled with a sagging, fictional fourth-network morning-show dud that even the executives want to euthanize. It’s a far cry from the Today show, and Jeff Goldblum’s dryly hilarious executive explains that Daybreak lags behind even “whatever that thing is they show on CBS in the morning.”
Too young and inexperienced for the job, armed only with gumption and an extremely expressive set of bangs, McAdams’ Becky Fuller wrangles legendary network anchor Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) for desk duty, exploiting a loophole in the quasi-retired news legend’s contract that requires him to glower every morning across from Diane Keaton’s former Miss Arizona. The two cheerlessly report on Easter chicks and pap smears, sniping at one another in the ratings gutter, cheekily satirizing the banality of daytime programming and the lowest-common-denominator focus that’s now a matter of fact in the television news industry.
No, it’s not Broadcast News. Indeed, part of what makes Michell’s picture so interesting is that the ethical “info-tainment” quandaries faced by Holly Hunter, William Hurt and Albert Brooks in that prophetic 1987 classic are acknowledged as long over. “Your side lost,” McAdams explains more than once to an increasingly outraged Ford. Morning Glory is a much simpler workplace romp, taking the paucity of enlightening and edifying programming as a bitter fact of life, then following Daybreak’s gang of misfits as they attempt to save themselves from cancellation via on-air Jackass stunts.
The film might be best summed up with the word Ford curmudgeonly refuses to utter on air: “Fluffy.”
At times it feels like screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna did a “Find/Replace All” on her script for The Devil Wears Prada, throwing an earnest young lass into a dysfunctional work environment full of high-maintenance divas and difficult dudes. (John Pankow’s long-suffering assistant screams “We couldn’t afford Stanley Tucci.”) But what gives the movie zing is Michell’s elegant widescreen framing and the contributions of an incredibly overqualified cast.
These sort of movies all suffer from the stereotype of lonely young career gals married to their BlackBerries, so credit McAdams with finding just the right goofy, socially awkward spin on the Type A persona. She’s charmingly discombobulated with a never-say-die optimism. Too much of Morning Glory is devoted to Becky’s nonstarter romance with a fellow producer played by stiff Patrick Wilson. The real fun is had in the television studio, where she’s stuck massaging her bickering anchors’ egos.
Keaton is slightly underused, but brings her sublime comic timing to the role of a big fish in a small pond, stubbornly refusing to share the spotlight. It’s Ford who is the revelation here. After decades of phoning in glum performances in generic thrillers, he cheerfully sends up his sourpuss persona. As befitting a legend, his Mike Pomeroy speaks every line in a drawn-out, anchorman cadence infused with fatuous gravity. (Ford makes an entire meal out of the word “frittata.”) Bitterly condescending and usually drunk, he’s a nightmare of self-regard.
Playing a 1980s icon who marginalized himself out of the limelight by refusing to take direction and bullying those beneath him, it’s hard not to read a bittersweet note of autobiography in Ford’s performance. It’s great to see him going back to work again, and you’ll root for Mike to redeem himself, even if that means having to say “fluffy.”
Director: Roger Michell
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton
Running time: 107 minutes