It’s an easy cliché to say “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” And forgive me, but I’m going to use it. Because I honestly didn’t think they made films like Morning Glory anymore. A Hollywood comedy, but not a frat boy exercise in juvenile behaviour. A female lead, but not one who is obsessed by men and/or fashion above all other things. A comedy with an actual plot and story rather than a series of improvised sketches glued together. A film that builds to a crescendo and fits everything it needs to into 90 minutes then ends, instead of running out of gas yet dragging things out to 2 ½ hours. Perhaps this is not so much a cliché as a rule? If so, then Morning Glory is most certainly the exception that proves the rule.
Becky Fuller is the over-worked producer of a local morning news program. Waking at 2am every morning, her life revolves totally around her job. So naturally she is devastated when, instead of getting the promotion she was expecting, the network lets her go due to cost cutting measures. Down on her luck, Fuller is willing to take anything and jumps at the chance to work at national network IBS. Despite not being qualified enough, her determination is enough to convince executive Jerry Barnes to hire her. He’s got nothing to lose – the job Fuller is given is exec-producer of slumping morning show Daybreak. Close to cancellation, Daybreak is bottom of the ratings and working on a budget of peanuts. It’s barely being held together by producer Lenny Bergman and long time host Colleen Peck while the rest of the staff bicker, argue and try to avoid slimy co-host Paul. Not to be deterred, Fuller sets about trying to rescue the show with her first act being to fire Paul. As his replacement; Fuller exercises a long-forgotten clause in the contract of highly respected and highly paid news anchor Mike Pomeroy. Once the interviewer of presidents and winner of multiple Pulitzers, Pomeroy’s career has stalled and he’s living out the time on his IBS contract in semi-retirement. That is until Fuller threatens him with being cut off unless he accepts the role of co-anchor of Daybreak. So can Becky save the show with her newest recruit? Or will Pomeroy’s hatred of such low brow glossy trash (and his refusal to say the word ‘fluffy’) put the final nail in Daybreak’s coffin?
The stage is set for a battle of wills between Fuller’s endless enthusiasm and Pomeroy’s embittered grouch. You might guess that the stage is also set for a begrudging relationship to develop and eventually true love blossom. And if I tell you that the pair are played by Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford respectively, you’re probably already imaging some lecherous romantic comedy along the lines of Entrapment (Connery and Zeta-Jones; in case you’ve repressed memories of that hideous pairing). But, to my great relief, writer Aline Brosh McKenna takes a very different route. Sure, a love interest for Becky is introduced but, importantly, it’s very much a ‘b’ plot to the core story of the film. Fuller’s obviously going to learn some life lessons by the end of it, but one of them is most certainly not that true love conquers all, and that work and personal accomplishments don’t matter as long as you have a man by your side. It’s one of the refreshing elements of the film – Fuller believes in her job and the importance of her work and that is never broken (however misguided such unwavering dedication might actually be). Oh and yes, the “boyfriend” is played by someone at least within McAdam’s generation: Jaded Eye favourite Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, A-Team, Alex is constantly confusing him with Cole Hauser).
Appearing in almost every scene, it’s McAdam’s film to carry and she gives it her all. Unfortunately, either because of the way the character is written or because of her interpretation of it, Fuller tends to come across as a highly neurotic, screamy/whiny borderline psychotic. It’s certainly a high energy performance and McAdam has just enough charisma to carry things off, but it does tend to undercut some of the quieter moments when Fuller is still bouncing around the screen. However, it has to be said that the performance works brilliantly against Harrison Ford’s ultra deadpan Pomeroy. Clearly having more fun on a film set than he’s had in years, Ford relishes his sourpuss role and plays it to the hilt. Every withering putdown, every long stare is played just perfectly. Ford also gets to trade barbs with Diane Keaton, and the two legends clearly enjoy it. Keaton is excellent, first as the frosty ruler of the roost, threatened by Becky’s arrival, then later as she bonds with Fuller and lets her hair down. John Pankow is also worthy of mention as Lenny Bergman – his character arc is predictable from the first second you’re introduced to him, but Pankow does great work within the limited space he’s given. It’s always hard to tell when Jeff Goldblum is acting and when he isn’t so I’ll just say that he does his thing as Fuller’s boss Barnes. It’s fun, but showy and nothing we haven’t seen before.
Above all, Morning Glory works because it is genuinely funny. There’s some great writing and some nice one liners in there, but it’s also not afraid to play the pratfall card once it feels it has earned it. As Fuller gets more and more desperate for ratings, she starts pilling on the embarrassments onto the Daybreak presenters. Chief punching bag is weatherman Ernie Appleby (judged just right by actor Matt Malloy) who has to endure all manner of painful events in the name of ratings. Had the film started like this, it would have quickly grown tiresome. Instead, the escalation is judged perfectly. Some of the closing events of the film do feel a little forced but I had more than enough good will to allow some leaps of faith/logic in order to bring things to a tidy resolution. It’s also a valid argument to say that nothing that happens is at all believable, but it doesn’t matter. This is a classic Hollywood Screwball comedy, existing in a world similar to ours but not quite the same. Perhaps if the studios were churning these types of films out by the dozen, Morning Glory would be an also ran, an average movie. But because they are not, it stands as a diamond in the rough, one well worth searching out.
Perhaps if Fuller had hired Christine Bleakley and Adrian Chiles, she would have saved Daybreak? Oh wait…