It has been some time since I’ve seen anything so deftly snatch defeat from the very jaws of victory as Morning Glory does. Here we have a movie with a perfectly solid comedic premise, a sharp director and three stars who ought to have sewn it up without breaking a sweat. And sometimes the actors do. In fact, a good deal of the time they do, but when they don’t, oh brother, do they ever not.
The film is built around Rachel McAdams—heiress apparent to the romantic comedy after Amy Adams dropped the ball with Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) and Leap Year (2010). McAdams plays TV producer Becky Fuller, an occasionally too-bubbly force of nature. As the film opens, Becky finds herself being fired from a lousy local TV station and in need of a job. That comes her way with what seems to be a suicide-mission offer to produce the lamest morning program going, the barely limping-along Daybreak on the IBS network. Becky sees this as a challenge, an opportunity and a possible stepping stone to her dream of working for the Today show. Network executive Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum) sees her as the only option going for the job.
Of course, the show is peopled with eccentrics and the spectacularly inept. But since one of these eccentrics is Diane Keaton—showing the delivery timing she learned back in her Woody Allen days—as co-anchor Colleen Peck, this isn’t such a bad thing. Fortunately, her one-note foot-fetishist co-host (Ty Burrell, TV’s Modern Family) is fired as soon as that one note is exhausted, which makes room for crusty legendary newsman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford). Pomeroy is past his prime, but the network is stuck with him—and a $6 million-dollar contract—for another couple of years. Naturally, he wants nothing to do with Daybreak. It follows as page six follows page five that Becky will force him into the co-host position. It similarly follows that he will make life a living hell for all concerned.
All this is fine. It’s on the predictable side, but it works nicely. Even giving Becky one sane and sympathetic helper, Lenny Bergman (John Pankow, The Extra Man), is a reasonable move. But it clearly reminds us of a previous screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna, The Devil Wears Prada (2006), since Lenny is essentially a shallow version of Stanley Tucci’s character in that film. The similarities between the two films don’t stop there, unfortunately. The biggest problem with McKenna’s Morning Glory screenplay is the pointless urge to turn the comedy into a romcom. The romance is flat, uninteresting and serves no real purpose. That was the significant problem with the Prada film, and it’s even worse here. Casting the typically bland Patrick Wilson as Becky’s utterly superfluous romantic partner doesn’t help—and every scene involving the two is an essay in tedium while we wait for the film to get back to the story.
Does the intrusion of this uninteresting romance sink the movie? No, it doesn’t. It does, however, make it harder to overlook other things that don’t really work, especially the wayward structure and ending. Why, for example, does the script raise the prospect of the show becoming a hit by virtue of the increasing on-air warfare between Pomeroy and Peck, only to forget about the idea almost immediately? And then there is the film’s insistence on a “big” ending it neither needs nor achieves. The ending scenes are not simply unnecessary, they require the viewer to suffer momentary brain death to buy into them. If you believe that NBC executives schedule a meeting with Becky at 8 a.m. and hold that meeting in a room where Becky watches her show play in the background (so she can see the big scene take place), I’m willing to bet you once bought the title to the Brooklyn Bridge off a guy on a street corner, too.
Even with all this, Morning Glory has enough going for it that I’d marginally recommend it. There are quite a few moments in it when the film flirts with comic greatness. McAdams, Ford and Keaton are all in good form, though Keaton could have had more to do. Maybe I’m feeling generous because of what has passed for comedy in American films this year, but I did find Morning Glory OK. That it could have been great is what is annoying about it. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content, including dialogue, language and brief drug references.