Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Morning Glory

As published in F*** Magazine Issue 14 (March 2011), pg. 101

(2010 US Wide Release)

Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson
Directed by: Roger Michell
Bad Robot Productions/Dist. Paramount Pictures.

            Here in Singapore, a large number of us start our day with Primetime Morning, a morning news and variety program on Channel News Asia. On the bus travelling to school, while the sky was still dark outside, I often wondered how these show anchors managed to look so awake and preppy at that ungodly hour, and what went into the production of such a show.

            Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, a hardworking, bubbly and likeable producer of a morning show quite like Primetime Morning. She joins a struggling show called DayBreak, which faces stiff competition from NBC’s The Today Show and others like it. She is immediately pushed into the deep end of the pool, dealing with temperamental hosts, patently ridiculous and pointless stories and segments, flagging ratings and the feeling that her dedication to her job is jeopardizing every other aspect of her life – including a possible relationship with Adam Bennett (Wilson), the affable and handsome producer of a show just upstairs.

            Becky manages to wrangle experienced and respected (and very serious) news anchor Mike Pomeroy to do DayBreak, and he is the latest in a long line of exasperated anchors unable to deal with the whims of co-host Colleen Peck (Keaton). Pomeroy makes no effort to hide that he feels humiliated, having been reduced from being the first reporter to arrive at Ground Zero on 9/11 to doing arts and craft segments involving Papier-mâché masks. And in the middle of it all, Becky has to hold the fort – despite it quickly spiraling out of her control.

            It’s no secret that Hollywood has been experiencing a serious drought in quality romantic-comedies. Caricatures of handsome, rich and amorous men and having Adam Sandler hook up with the likes of Emmanuelle Chriqui, Brooklyn Decker and Salma Hayek weren’t enjoyable to start with - and are now even worse.

            As such, I really did enjoy Morning Glory. From the get-go, it is tonally assured and the performances are consistently strong throughout. The film quickly establishes that morning television is far from the fun and games that comprise its content, stays away from making sweeping generalizations about working in that genre of TV, and is able to mine a great deal of genuine laughs from this very concept. I was very pleasantly surprised at Aline Brosh McKenna’s screenplay; her effort to make each character have more than two dimensions and her knack for some side-splitting dialogue almost, just almost, Sorkin-esque.

            By dint of being in the same genre with such classics as Network and Broadcast News, expectations are justifiably high. However, many subtle winks and nods are made towards these films, and a strong character arc and plot that moves efficiently towards a satisfying ending are big players in making Morning Glory as much a hoot to watch as it is.

            Rachel McAdams is a casting coup. She effortlessly exudes likeable energy, and seems so much more comfortable with this role than with that of the femme fatale Irene Adler in 2009’s Sherlock Holmes. Her character is friendly and has a bit of a gawkish charm, but is serious and dedicated when it comes to her work. She seems to be chanelling 30 Rock’s Tina Fey, and McAdams is more than able to handle every comedy and dramatic note the script throws away. The kooky and almost realistic approach to the character drags the viewer right in.
It’s no secret to those who know me that Harrison Ford has long been my favourite actor, and as such it feels like a bit of a waste when modern films cast him as the scowling guy holding a gun in the background, banking solely on his action star pedigree. The man definitely can act, and his performance in this film as the curmudgeon is easily some of his best work in the past decade or so. A large part of the appeal of his defining roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones was the sense of humour they had. Here, Ford maxes out his comic timing, and replaces his patented “oh no!” face of shock as the wrongly-accused guy on the lam with an equally fantastic “this is embarrassing, I want to kill myself” expression. He’s cranky and rude, but when audiences can finally get under his skin, it’s an amazing payoff. Also, hearing the actor say lines such as “now you think I’m your bitch” and the single word “menopause” is, inherently, hysterical fun.

            Truth be told, Diane Keaton is the only performer who hams it way up for comedic value (in addition to Ty Burrell, whose appearance as a lecherous show anchor is not much more than a cameo). Her barbs towards Pomeroy are stinging and bitchy, but Keaton and Ford make good use of their chemistry to create two characters that we love to see at each others’ throats. Patrick Wilson as Adam is basically the perfect man, but the decision to let the romance between him and Becky take a back seat to the comedic and dramatic elements was very wise, and he and McAdams look great together, their characters’ relationship progressing in a realistic way and at just the right pace.

            Jeff Goldblum pops up as a network executive at DayBreak’s station IBS, and plays a serious but thoughtful businessman-type with cool and measured ease, respectful of the talent under his wing but also showing reasonable concern when losses rear their heads. It seems that both he and Harrison Ford and to an extent Patrick Wilson (fresh off The A-Team) have brought a lot of their experience from astronomically-budgeted blockbusters and that it has helped them as actors in this comedy too.

            Unfortunately, there is one “cardinal sin of romantic comedy” that this movie commits – drowning its soundtrack in pop ditty after pop ditty, almost threatening to dilute the charm of the rest of the movie. Indeed, the most effective uses of music in Morning Glory with re-interpretations of classics – especially the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. It’s like how Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross arranged Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”, for The Social Network.

            There are amazing gags aplenty in the film, from an editing mistake that leaves the line “sexual offender” under the photograph when former President Jimmy Carter’s face replaces that of the wanted molester from the previous story, all the way to having weatherman Ernie (Matt Malloy) ride a crazy new roller coaster as the camera is fixed on his face, live for TV audiences nationwide to see, but none of it feels cheap or shoehorned-in.

At one point in the film, Pomeroy complains angrily to Becky that the morning show genre of TV is all sugar-coated empty calories, a far cry from his experience interviewing the likes of Mother Teresa and Dick Cheney in serious news shows. Becky, pushed to the brink, still attempts to be reasonable, and explains that he could mesh his strengths, resulting in a “branded donut”. And that’s exactly what this movie is – a delicious treat made with fine ingredients and all the more tasty for it.

RATING: 4/5 STARS           

Jedd Jong


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