There is a moment around the mid-point of Morning Glory when Daybreak weatherman Ernie Appleby (Matt Malloy) is plunked in a roller coaster at the whim of executive producer Becky Fuller’s (Rachel McAdams) new think-outside-the-box producing style. He’s all calm and coolness until the coaster takes its first dive. Hilarity ensues, profanities are screamed, and Appleby ends his live segment with the plea, “Please make it stop!”
This was, coincidentally, the first moment that I emotionally connected with Morning Glory, because I wholeheartedly echoed Appleby’s sentiment.
Morning Glory follows the plight of McAdams' devoted, idealistic, enterprising news producer Becky Fuller after she is hired by network executive Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum) to helm the dismally fourth-ranked national morning television show Daybreak. Fuller is doubted by her superiors and colleagues from the get-go, and is saddled with the task of revamping the content, reeling in the over-the-top personality of anchor Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) and harnessing the talent of stubborn legendary hard news reporter-turned co-anchor Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford). Peck and Pomeroy clash, news magazine producer Adam Bennett (Patrick Wilson) swoops in as a romantic distraction and Fuller is finally given an ultimatum by Barnes: raise the ratings in six weeks or face cancellation.
Writer Aline Brosh McKenna is no stranger to this subject matter – her most celebrated screenplay, The Devil Wears Prada, follows a similarly ambitious female lead through the high heel-snapping pitfalls of the fashion magazine publishing world. The success of Prada is that it cunningly infuses biting satire and tongue-in-cheek wit into its characters (the brilliantly bitchy Stanely Tucci is a standout) and commentaries (who can forget Meryl Streep’s “cerulean” speech?) Prada’s characters are multi-faceted, developed and – whether the audience empathizes with them or loves to hate them – there’s purpose behind their plights. The key factor, though, is that – all the while – we’re in on the big joke: fashion is ridiculous, over-the-top glitz, but it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry for a reason.
But Brosh McKenna’s success handling the double-edged stiletto that is Prada makes Morning Glory even more of a wasted opportunity. Broadcast News and Network being some of the very best examples of television news films that successfully straddle the line between entertaining and analytical, Morning Glory already had a big anchor's seat to fill. It could’ve been fascinating to delve into the way news – and its audience – has changed in the past few decades (satirically or otherwise), but there is no mention of this in Morning Glory. In fact, the film goes to great lengths not to have an opinion about any of it – serving up scene upon scene of slapstick humor and laughably ridiculous show content sans irony.
Even the characters seem confused about the plot’s overall point. Fuller touts to her team that no story is too big or small, that entertainment and news can coexist and warrant merit, then she fills segments with ballet dancing, rap concerts, wrestling, animal wrangling and skydiving. Peck grumbles to Pomery about his hoity-toity hardened news journalist attitude regarding morning show content, then attempts to cut him to size by reminding him that he’s “down in the muck like the rest of us.” Fuller threatens to pull Pomeroy’s mysterious news story regarding the governor, until he earns the show a ratings-redeeming scoop. So… are we watching a movie about the new hybrid face of broadcasting? Are we ridiculing the bottom-feeding content of morning shows? Or is this supposed to be about winning the broadcast ratings game, regardless of subject matter?
Pomeroy sums it all up pretty well himself during a scene where he lambasts his portrayal in a ridiculously hokey Daybreak promo. “What’s in my briefcase, special anchor papers? And where am I running?” The story is as one-note and superfluous as a morning show lineup, lugging around empty shells of characters and running in different directions without any intended destination.
Speaking of attention to character development, in Morning Glory’s case, there is precious little. Though we’re supposed to consider Fuller the adorable, quirky, workaholic underdog, it seems like everything comes too easy for her, and even her troubles take on a cutesy air. She’s hired at Daybreak after a five-minute interview, proceeds to quickly land and furnish a sizeable Manhattan apartment and then cleans house and earns respect during her first day at the office. All of this paves the way for Fuller to spend the majority of the movie prattling about with curmudgeonly Pomeroy, who – aside from insulting her and being a generally unmotivated grouch – doesn’t exactly give her a Miranda Priestly-esque run for her money.
Ford’s Pomery has a sordid history, both professionally and personally, but they’re vague, and are touched upon so fleetingly that it’s impossible to empathize. While it’s enjoyable to see Ford in a comedic role – his delivery of a joke pertaining to an African rain stick elicits one of the few genuine laughs in the film – his charm cannot rise above the script’s limitations.
Keaton’s Peck is generally sidelined in favor of more Pomeroy/Fuller screen time, but the little we know of her is that she’s an ex-beauty queen-turned-on-air-diva. With that in mind, we’re then asked to believe she’ll eventually unearth her heart of gold, lay down her pride and don a sumo suit or suck face with a frog in the name of ratings.
Wilson’s Bennett is merely a pawn. The delicious spark so desperately needed by the story’s romance never even ignites – Fuller and Bennett go from 0 to 60 in a few easy frames, making their relationship not only utterly improbable and surface-level, but also contrived and sorely lacking in chemistry.
Goldblum’s Barnes gets minimal airtime, showing up only to characteristically stutter his way through snippy, Fuller-berating dialogue. His turn from doubting executive to supportive boss is blink-and-you-missed-it quick, and his character arc’s believability factor fades even faster.
Not all of the issues lie in the film’s script, though – its pacing is also problematic. Director Roger Michell returns to his Notting Hill romantic comedy roots in frenetic form, distilling much of the story in a series of montages. The world of Morning Glory, it seems, is one where everything can be wrapped up, recapped, summarized and served on a celluloid platter. There’s a montage for Fuller’s job search, her apartment hunt, Daybreak’s preparations for Pomeroy’s first day, the initial standoff between Pomeroy and Peck, for Daybreak’s new zany content line-up, and even a slow-motion running montage intercut with the making of a frittata (it’s as ridiculous and lacking in sentiment as it sounds). There simply isn’t any time to breathe and take the story and its characters in, for whatever they’re worth. Michell does succeed in creating a convincing newsroom aesthetic, especially with tight shots in the control room and the feel of the broadcast floor, but none of that attention to detail is worthwhile when all of the scenes are quick-cut and stylized.
All flash and little fathomage makes for fluff – ironically, a word highly contended by Pomeroy throughout the film. Again, it seems that Ford’s character unintentionally calls it. “Fluff” is the word, mockingbird.
Morning Glory hits theaters nationwide today.