All you need to know about “Morning Glory” is that it was written by “The Devil Wears Prada” scribe Aline Brosh McKenna. While the mega-success of that film propelled her towards becoming a very in-demand writer, like her male equivalent Allan Loeb, we’re still waiting to see what all the fuss is about. ‘Prada’ was never a terribly brilliant piece of writing and that film’s success was due more to Meryl Streep (and to a lesser extent Emily Blunt and Anne Hathaway) than anything on the page. But if it worked once, might as well try it again, as McKenna essentially reworks the formula in “Morning Glory” transplanting the fashion industry for network television in a film that is watery facsimile of its predecessor.
The film centers on Becky (Rachel McAdams) an ambitious, relentlessly perky (you’d swear, the only thing she drinks is Jolt cola) television producer who has just been laid off from the New Jersey station where she works. Despite being told to stop reaching for the stars by her bummer of a mother, Becky aggressively pursues job openings until she lands an executive producing job on “Daybreak,” a New York City-based morning show on the fledgling IBN network. Her boss, Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum, who in every scene looks like he just woke up) is not quite convinced of her experience, but admires her determination and signs her up for the job. But his lack of faith will be the least of her problems.
“Daybreak” is in shambles. The entire team is in disarray, ratings are in the tank and the show has settled into a rut of expected mediocrity, but Becky is ready to make her mark and shake things up. Her first order of business is to fire the current, foot-fetishizing, grandma porno-watching male co-anchor. But she needs a replacement fast, and with Barnes not able to throw any more money at show, she uses a loophole in the contract of the legendary news journalist Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to hire him onto the show. He doesn’t like it one bit, but if he wants the $6 million he has coming to him on the remainder of his contract he has to play ball, but he won’t make it easy. Pomeroy and his female co-lead Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) immediately butt heads and moreover he refuses to do anything unless it’s hard news. No entertainment segments, no human interest stories, nothing. Nor does he put up any pretense on air that he’s happy to be on “Daybreak,” killing any banter Colleen tries to start. In short, he’s Becky’s worst nightmare.
Becky is soon caught between bickering co-anchors, and is under pressure from Barnes to get ratings up all while trying to stoke the fires of a fledgling romance with fellow network producer Adam Bennett (Patrick Wilson, once again wasted in a thankless boyfriend role). But this film proves, you can achieve anything if you just….remain perky? And that right there is glaring problem with McKenna’s “Morning Glory.” The film isn’t sure if it wants to be about young Becky finding her ground in the cutthroat world of network TV or if it wants to be the redemption tale of cynical vet Mike Pomeroy, ends up trying to be both and winds up selling both character arcs ridiculously short. McKenna never abandons sitcom structure and broad laughs long enough to get into anything deeper, so in the late stages when Becky must reckon with her job and Mike must come to grips with his career and the two realize how important they are to each other (seriously) its a cheap Hallmark-lite sentiment instead of a revelation that’s earned. As Becky solves the morning show’s problems by appealing to the lowest common denominator so does the script and everything dovetails into a gooey, middling mush.
But not all of the film’s problems lie with the script as, watching the film, we began to wonder if director Roger Michell (“Notting Hill,” “Changing Lanes“) had actually ever been in New York City before. For a film that is supposed to get into the hard scrabble battle between networks angling for audiences in the city, Michell curiously shoots exteriors like an amateur travel video. For whatever reason, he feels a need to tilt the camera wildly whenever he’s filming a building and reduces New York City to either trendy faux diners or, more often, glittery neon that might’ve been representative of the city twenty years ago. We’ve seen more convincing New York City streets shot in Toronto. And there are some odd quirks peppered through the film, particularly an unintentionally amusing number of scenes of characters eating nuts and a multitude of really, really heavy doors. It seems that every office in the big city has a door that weighs about three times as much as Becky forcing her to use both arms and pull with all her might. We’re chalking this up as a quirk because we’d hate to think that Michell was trying to get some kind of visual metaphor across (though we wouldn’t put it past him considering that McAdams’ hair gets a trendy cut between scenes to help mark her professional and personal progression towards the end of the film). And we’re not even going to get into the constantly odd framing of the film, most noticeable in a scene where Becky is talking to Barnes on the steps of the Met and seems to be addressing his crotch for the entire conversation.
Not leaving anything to chance McKenna and Michell make sure to spoonfeed the audience their happy ending so the final ten minutes or so ends up crammed with a running-across-New-York-scene, a heartfelt apology and a tearful confession but all of it feels as phony as the permanently happy faces on morning television. The film misses a golden opportunity to really have Keaton and Ford spar (their animosity is largely subplot and Keaton all but disappears for the last third of the film) and since Becky’s triumph is never in question, nor does she really have to face any serious stakes or sacrifice anything for her goals, the film plays out with a tedious inevitability that gets more predictable with each passing minute. Credit to the stars then for keeping things mildly engaging, but not even McAdams’ spirited spunk or Ford’s grizzled growl was enough to keep us from wanting to change the channel. [C-]