Friday, November 19, 2010

Have a good 'morning'

One theme that continues to come up in my reviews is that a formulaic film isn't necessarily a bad thing. A film working within a template can be good if the content is worthy and the actors are on top of their game. When that happens, the formula fades away. “Morning Glory” is a prime example of this.

The film centers on Becky (Rachel McAdams), a producer for a morning show in New Jersey, who is fired, but catches a break and gets a job as a producer on a last-in-the-ratings national morning show not unlike “Today” or “Good Morning, America.”

Becky's plan for turning the show around is to fire the wooden, prima donna male co-anchor (Ty Burrell) and hire Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a washed-up award-winning evening news anchor with a contractual obligation to the network. Mike thinks a morning show is beneath him and refuses to play ball — much to the frustration of Becky, her crew and the show's female anchor (Diane Keaton).

“Morning Glory” is working with a lot of familiar plot lines: the struggling business/show that needs to improve against the odds or face the axe; the workaholic who needs to learn to balance work and play; and the bitter veteran who eventually softens. This can be eye-rolling stuff when handled poorly, but luckily there's a good amount of actual wit and heart in Aline Brosh McKenna's script.

McKenna also wrote “The Devil Wears Prada” a film where the seams of its formula were often too visible, but that was saved by sharp, cynical humor and brilliant performances by Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci and Emily Blunt. Like “Devil Wears Prada,” “Morning Glory” is a peek behind the scenes of a world the public isn't that familiar with from the perspective of a female protagonist. Of course, the world of a fashion magazine is a bit more exotic than that of a morning show.

“Morning Glory” has far less bite than “Devil Wears Prada,” but, within the confines of its light comedy, it does address the blurring line of entertainment and news as well as discuss the value of soft news versus hard news. Just that little bit of thoughtfulness helps the film feel fuller.

The film is slow to start. It feels like the movie is merely spinning its wheels, but the screenplay is actually taking its time setting things up that pay off both comically and emotionally toward the end of the film. Audiences members who are patient will be rewarded with a second half full of big laughs.

It is ultimately the cast that really sells this material. McAdams is one of the better actresses of her generation. She has a likable screen presence and plays Becky as bright, fast-talking, intelligent, a bit awkward and loveable. She has movie-star looks, but acting chops to back them up. When the movie dials down for serious moments she makes them credible even when they feel contrived.

Ford is not known for his work in movies marketed as comedies, but as Han Solo and Indiana Jones he was more than able to deliver a sharp one-liner and his work in “Working Girl,” a film not dissimilar to "Morning Glory," is noteworthy. Here he plays Mike with a grimacing gruffness and delivers his zingers with an effectively dry deadpan.

Ford's performance feels one-note, which becomes clear is the point when you get to the scene in which Mike finally lets his emotional guard down. It is a tender scene that is all the more affecting because you don't expect it from the character.

Keaton has fun bantering with Ford and throwing the occasional diva tantrum, but the film under-utilizes her talents. The same goes for Jeff Goldblum as Becky's boss, who even with limited screen time manages to make throwaway lines like “is that what you want?” memorable thanks to his signature offbeat line delivery. Patrick Wilson has the obligatory love-interest role, and while he's more of a plot device than an actual character he does have chemistry with McAdams.

“Morning Glory” is directed by Roger Michell, who has made such well-crafted films as “Notting Hill” and “Changing Lanes.” He is an assured filmmaker that knows how to make good-looking film. This isn't groundbreaking, but it doesn't need to be. It is simply solid entertaining light fare.

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