Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Morning Glory

Director: Roger Michell
Starring: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson, Ty Burrell, Jeff Goldblum, John Pankow, Matt Malloy
Running Time: 107 min.
Rating: PG-13

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

In what has to be considered somewhat of a shocker, Harrison Ford gives one of his best performances in years in Morning Glory. Yes, that Harrison Ford. In a comedy. And he's funny. After a decade straight of flops, he finally lands a role worthy of his talents and reminds us how good an actor he can still be with sharp material. It's a shame no one went to see it because I could easily envision Ford's role here eventually appearing on a his career highlight reel and gaining respect as time goes on. It's that good. As for the movie itself, it's essentially a well-executed chick flick about a morning show set against the backdrop of a timely news vs. entertainment debate, but any guy should be relieved if they're forced to watch to it because it's one of the rare good ones. A 90's throwback of sorts, it recalls a time when romantic comedies were smart didn't star Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston, and featured characters that were likable and worth rooting for. While this was a surprisingly pleasurable experience, it's easy to see why many stayed away considering it did look awful from the previews and this genre has the worst track record of any. But here is the rare, sophisticated, adult-minded romantic comedy that succeeds in entertaining the audience it's aimed at.

After being laid off from her job at Good Morning New Jersey, plucky, aspiring news producer Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) gets the call of her life to join the struggling morning network news show, Daybreak as their new executive producer. With The Today Show, Good Morning America and whatever that other show is on CBS (their words, not mine) crushing it in the ratings, Becky is hired by IBS network suit Jeffrey Barnes (Jeff Goldblum) in a final attempt to revitalize the program and save it from impending cancellation. In dire need of a new co-host for self-centered former beauty queen Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), Becky finds a clause in the contract of respected veteran IBS newsman Mike Pomeroy (Ford) preventing him from sitting out the remainder of his six-million dollar deal and blackmails him into taking the gig. Unfortunately for Becky and the rest of the show's staff, Pomeroy makes his disgust of "soft news" stories and witty banter abundantly clear, often when the cameras start rolling. His refusal to cooperate puts the show and Becky's already shaky future in further jeopardy, as she tries to fight off her workaholic tendencies long enough to launch a fledgling relationship with another network producer, Adam (Patrick Wilson).

No one could have possibly guessed it would be this fun watching Harrison Ford look miserable. It's so entertaining that at first I just chalked it up to Ford actually being miserable that he's appearing in this film, which wouldn't be a stretch given his recent track record. After a little while though it becomes clear that can't be true since no actor that miserable would be able to give a performance this inspired and Ford has no reason to be cranky or embarrassed about appearing in this. Whether Pomeroy is arguing with his co-host on-air, shooting off a priceless look of disgust when confronted with a fluffy news story, or being mistaken for Dan Rather on the street, Ford never wavers in his portrayal of this unlikable old crank. He shares great chemistry with Keaton in their on-air scenes with both being completely believable as sparring newscasters but real pleasure comes in watching him play off McAdams during Becky's many clumsy attempts to integrate the straight-laced Pomeroy onto the program. This is essentially a one-joke movie but that one joke is hilarious and never comes close to wearing out its welcome because of Ford's comic timing. And when the time comes for Ford to sell a transformation that should seem impossible, he manages to pull that off also, revealing a different dimension to the character.

While it's hard to say Keaton is underutilized in her role, it isn't nearly as essential as Ford's, but that hardly matters since she's great anyway and it's one of the few recent parts she's had that matches her talent. Rachel McAdams is just terrific, effortlessly carrying the entire movie as the lead and putting to shame most of her less talented contemporaries. At first glance it seems as if she's saddled with one of those stereotypical female  rom-com roles, playing a stressed-out busybody whose life is being squashed by her career. To an extent that's true, but she's so ridiculously likable and you hardly stop to notice and the script deserves some credit for not making this about that or having her "choose" between the two. Her relationship with Patrick Wilson's character isn't essential to the plot, which is actually ends up being a relief since it's unobtrusive and handled reasonably without feeling tacked on. Wilson seems to be playing the thankless boyfriend role in every other romantic comedy released these days but it's a credit to him that he hasn't come out of even the dumbest ones looking like a fool.

Anyone criticizing this for being a lightweight comedy rather than a hard hitting social commentary on the television industry like Network or Broadcast News probably needed to adjust their expectations. It definitely won't be winning any awards for its realistic depiction of broadcast journalism, but it may as well be a documentary compared to something like 1996's unintentionally hilarious Up Close and Personal, which was easily the silliest portrayal of the news industry on screen up to this point. This is supposed to be mindless, enjoyable fluff and it is, with the laughs being well-earned by its clever script and the actors, especially Ford, who hasn't been this good in ages. Morning Glory does have a few interesting (if glaringly obvious) things to say about the sorry state of network news, even if some might look for a message that isn't there at the end. Its best aspect is assuming its audience is smart enough not to need one.

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