Thursday, December 9, 2010

Film Review: Morning Glory

"Morning Glory" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

Sometimes people are too hard on good Hollywood entertainment. Film critics like to use these movies to sharpen their chops. To demonstrate they know how to cut a movie apart. They know how to use venomous words. I admit, I'm not really to right guy to sing the praises of mainstream Hollywood films but when a movie is as good as "Morning Glory" (2010) I want to tell people about it.

For some strange reason the film hasn't made much of a dent with the public. Was their too much competition? Did the movie get lost in the shuffle? Was it because of the critics, whom were largely unfair to it? Have audiences simply grown tired of Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton (I hope not!)? Or is because Spider-Man didn't make a cameo? I bet if he did critics would be changing their tune. Those seem to be the only mainstream films critics get behind; comic book adaptations and Pixar animated films. Sadly, "Morning Glory" is neither.

"Morning Glory" is a sharp, perceptive, finely acted, well-written, funny movie. And besides Ford and Keaton the movie gives us Rachel McAdams, in perhaps her best starring vehicle.

A word about McAdams. I love her. Rarely have I seen a modern actress who has as much charm. McAdams, and I would argue Amy Adams, remind me of those great actresses from the 30s and 40s. They have a wonderful old-fashion appeal to them. I mean that as a compliment. To some people if you use the term "old-fashion" they take that as an insult. But remember who is writing this. Coming from me that is quite the compliment. Even when McAdams is in a movie I don't understand, "The Time Traveller's Wife" (2009) or a movie she doesn't belong in, "Red Eye" (2005), I still take pleasure in watching her perform.

"Morning Glory" is really her movie. She is the center of attention. And while that suites me just fine I have to admit they waste a pretty good cast here; Jeff Goldblum, Ford and Keaton. Of the three of them Harrison Ford is given the most to do but poor Diane Keaton wasn't given much of a character in which she could flesh out. Don't get me wrong, it is fun watching her but there just doesn't seem to be much there. The screenplay doesn't explore her personality enough. Goldblum is just a face on-screen. A lot of the movie rest on McAdams' shoulders and exactly how much we will like her. And she's the right woman for the job.

McAdams stars as Becky Fuller, a young, struggling TV news producer working out of New Jersey. She thinks she is in line for a promotion when in fact she is being fired. She is now desperate looking for work. In our current economic times this is a familiar problem. But good fortune strikes on Becky's door (depending how you look at it). Jerry (Goldblum) contacts her and calls her in for an interview. His station is looking for a producer for its morning news program which is in fourth place behind CBS' "Early Show", NBC's "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America", which makes you wonder what channel is Becky working for? The show is called Daybreak and currently is being co-anchored by Colleen Peck (Keaton). Despite everything Becky takes the job. A job is a job and she needs money.

Things immediately go wrong when Becky fires the lead male anchor, who makes a strange pass at her. Now Becky needs to find a replacement. Who can she possibly get? How about Mike Pomeroy (Ford)? Who is waiting out his contact, not doing any assignments, and is getting paid. He is a veteran television anchor, think Dan Rather, Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw. He deems morning news programs as trash, beneath a man like himself who has won Emmy's and a Peabody award. But Becky reminds him he is still under contract and if he wants those paychecks to keep coming he better accept the offer.

At this point "Morning Glory" starts to play around with an interesting idea. What makes the news? Do news programs concern themselves more with "good television" or presenting us with hard hitting news? What is the line between entertainment and news?

Unfortunately "Morning Glory" gives us a message I disapprove of, but, it is a reflection of our times. "Morning Glory" goes out of its way to tell us, morning news programs are meant to entertain. When Mike tries to present a worthy news story, a governor tax scandal, Becky passes. She tells Mike the battle between entertainment vs news is over. Mike's side lost.

Start watching your local news and I bet we will all begin to notice the same thing. News anchors always have to appear chummy. They laugh and smile and make comments on the headline stories. There is usually a male and female anchor, adding a sort of sexual vibe. And did you ever notice how attractive these people are. Here in Chicago every female weather person we have is, excuse the phrase, hott! No ugly people study weather? They have turned the news into a model shoot.

As someone who studied journalism in college this goes against everything I was taught in school. At the start of every class our professor would tell us our opinion doesn't matter. People aren't buying a newspaper or watching the news to know our opinions. They want to know the facts. In that sense I was on Mike's side. I personally only watch the first 20 minutes or so of those morning news programs, that's when they discuss politics and hard news.

Because of my journalism background I was able to pick up on how true a lot of things in "Morning Glory" are. Admittedly the movie may exaggerate certain things for comedic effect but the movie has a sense of what it is doing. It knows the ropes.

"Morning Glory" also manages to avoid a few cliches but not all of them. It offers us a brief romance between Becky and another producer, one who worked with Mike previously, Adam (Patrick Wilson). And we get scenes where she has to pick between her romance or career. We get scenes where Mike has to break down a bit and show he has a heart. Though for the most part "Morning Glory" works.

After the first hour of the film I was ready to put it on my "top ten" list but then it becomes a bit too sentimental for my taste. I thought the movie was going to turn into another "Love & Other Drugs" (2010), which starts out great and then after an hour goes downhill. "Morning Glory" seemed to be making that same shift in tone but it manages to find its way back. It doesn't turn into a weeper.

The film was directed by Roger Michell, who has a pretty good track record. He was behind "The Mother" (2004) and "Venus" (2006), which I found slightly creepy, even though Peter O' Toole does have some good moments. He has also directed his share of mainstream titles; "Changing Lanes" (2002) and "Notting Hill" (1999). The script was by Aline Brash McKenna, who wrote "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006), which I liked much more than I thought I would. You can compare both of these films if you like. Young ambitious women facing cranky older people. McKenna also wrote "Laws of Attraction" (2004) which I liked more than most people did.

Had this film been made a few years ago I'm sure it would have done more with Ford and Keaton's characters but Rachel McAdams is a delight to watch on-screen. I really hope more people seek this movie out. It is a real charmer.