The new comedy “Morning Glory” argues that hard news and fluff can not only coexist, but are both equally important and essential to helping Americans start their days.
As a journalist, I want to resent this idea. But the film’s just too darn cute.
Rachel McAdams finally gets a role tailor-made for her talents as energetic, effervescent and over-caffeinated Becky, a producer at a middling morning show in New Jersey. A go-getter with a Blackberry constantly in her hand and a smile permanently affixed, Becky is defined by her job, as we see in a disastrous first date that opens the film. Not that Becky seems to mind the single life; she loves her job and is so assured that her boss wants to see her about a promotion that she has a shirt prepared saying “I accept.”
Such confidence is rewarded—as it always is in movies—by Becky being fired, not promoted. Desperate to prove her nay-saying mother wrong, Becky scrambles for a job and lands one at a fourth place television network. Her boss (Jeff Goldblum) is initially weary of Becky’s inexperience, but hires her to shepherd “Daybreak,” a morning show that places dead last in the ratings. Eager to save the show, Becky shakes things up by firing the program’s lecherous male anchor (Ty Burrell), goading the weatherman (Matt Malloy) into outrageous stunts and forcing a reclusive reporting legend and news snob (Harrison Ford) to sit alongside the somewhat daffy and cynical female lead (Diane Keaton).
“Morning Glory” makes passing references to the way American news programs have devolved into ratings-starved circuses, trading in investigative journalism and foreign news for cooking segments and celebrity interviews, but it’s not interested in a serious exploration—if anything, it takes the side of the fluff. Rather than make any serious commentary about the state of journalism, “Morning Glory” instead wants to be a wacky workplace comedy, an ensemble piece with larger-than-life characters who butt heads, get on each others’ nerves and ultimately become a family. It’s less “Broadcast News” and more “The Devil Wears Prada” (which is fitting, as the two share a screenwriter in Aline Brosh McKenna).
It’s not a fresh approach, to be sure, but “Morning Glory” overcomes nearly every cliché and formula on the strength of its ensemble and the speed with which director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”) propels the characters through the craziness. The dialogue is fast and sharp, particularly a frenetically-paced sequence set on Becky’s first day when she’s seemingly overwhelmed by the chaos around her and then barks back orders just as quickly. The newsroom is the typical sitcom blend of wackos and divas, but Michell wisely gives each supporting cast member just enough of the spotlight to elicit chuckles before they wear out their welcome.
McAdams, smiling and talking a million miles a minute, has never been as good as she is here. The actress has been typecast in self-serious romantic dramas ever since “The Notebook” and, while she’s never been unlikable, she’s never really had a role she could tear into like it was her own. Here, rushing around the newsroom and keeping a joyful disposition while the media circus comes to life around her, McAdams shows a true flair for witty repartee and physical comedy. There’s an infectious joy to her performance that she is somehow able to keep from toppling over into annoying. It’s the kind of role Meg Ryan was doing 15 years ago and calls to mind Amy Adams at her most winning.
McAdams is so good that she elevates everyone else’s game, but none more so than Ford. It’s been way too long since Ford has seemed anything less than comatose in a movie that doesn’t require him to wear a fedora, but here his curmudgeonly attitude is the perfect foil to McAdams’ optimism. Ford wisely doesn’t ham it up ala Jack Nicholson, but instead creates a believably serious news anchor who resents what his profession has come to. He’s effortlessly funny in the role, selling a scene with just a glowering look and rumbling delivery. Few will be surprised to learn that the character has a soft spot and wounded heart, but what is surprising is just how subtly Ford reveals it and how his opening up at the end is less of a character revelation and more of an inevitable thaw as the character comes to respect his boss. It’s a great role for Ford, who has been absent from good movies for far too long.
When “Morning Glory” focuses on the workplace, it’s a very funny, extremely enjoyable ensemble comedy. When it detours into Becky’s obligatory romance with a fellow producer (Patrick Wilson), it sputters and feels a bit too formulaic and cliché. I appreciate that Becky needs to come to terms with her own work addiction and learn to turn off the Blackberry, but the whole romance proceeds with a sense of obligation that is at odds with the energetic workplace scenes. It may have been wiser to find another way for Becky to learn her lesson, particularly if it gave more screen time to Keaton, who we don’t see enough of here.
Michell is a pro at this kind of stuff and the film looks beautiful. I wish he had trusted his characters and the setting a little bit more without having to lean so heavy on an unnecessary romance; he also gives in a bit too frequently to his love for montages—there are at least two sequences of McAdams walking or running through New York, set to music. They’re done just about as well as those scenes can be, but they feel out of place. Mostly I just wanted her to stop running and get to the newsroom.
“Morning Glory” is no “Broadcast News,” but it’s not pretending to be. No one here is setting out to make the defining satire about the modern news business—even if, at times, they come frustratingly close. It wants nothing more than to be a fun and fluffy feel-good movie. The fact that the cast exceeds the movie’s reach is a nice little bonus.
This review appeared in the November 14 edition of The Advisor and Source .