There is a joke in Morning Glory about banter: acidic newsman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) and longtime "Daybreak" host Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) are rehearsing their first show together, a show Pomeroy is resisting with every iota of his being, and all executive producer Becky (Rachel McAdams) needs out of them is a little more interplay -- banter, that is. Pomeroy spits on the idea. He hates it. It's a shame, because the only thing stopping Morning Glory from being really funny is sharper banter; the film, pleasant and enjoyable as it is, lacks bite, and bite is what could have really elevated it into being a minor screwball gem.
"Daybreak" is failing. With the show trailing a distant fourth behind "The Today Show", "Good Morning America", and "whatever the hell is on CBS", Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum) sees Becky, recently fired from her longtime position producing a rinky-dink local morning show, as a long shot. Becky, on the other hand, sees the job as a last shot, one she can't possibly fail, because her dream, as ill-defined as it is, is slipping through her fingers. McAdams plays Becky as whirlwind of...well, a whirlwind anyway, talking a mile a minute through blind dates, elevator rides, job interviews, and right into the "Daybreak" offices. It's an exhausting performance that could use a few more valleys to balance out the peaks (or at least for the audience, if not McAdams, to catch their breath), but not without its charm and believability.
Becky's first order of business: fire the walking spray tan that claims to be the current co-host and get someone else into the co-anchor chair worth listening to. Her big idea is to call on Pomeroy, a multi-decade veteran of the business who's found himself unjustly thrown aside thanks to his own sense of integrity and pickiness, and has become content to wander his massive property shooting at birds while the network rides out his $6 million dollar contract. Over the past few decades, Ford's gone from scruffy to crotchety, and his performance here isn't much different, but he's admirably bitter as Becky bends his contract to get him on the show, and follows him around to make sure he doesn't try to call in drunk.
Director Roger Michell crafted the impressive Changing Lanes, a quiet but powerful performance piece elevated by its leads. Michell's hand is looser here, and a better sense of control might've made a big difference; McAdams brings that endless enthusiasm, Ford brings bottomless bitterness, but it doesn't quite gel without that spark in the characters' back-and-forth. There's also poor Diane Keaton, who seems steamrolled by the other two stars, reduced to performing 50 Cent's "Candy Shop" when the rapper drops in for a cameo. Michell aside, most of these faults fall to the screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna, which needs better pacing. The film takes too long to get Ford and Keaton together and at each others' throats, and although the film's big third-act conflict thankfully has nothing to do with Patrick Wilson as a slow-burn love interest, it's still clunky, predictable and poorly integrated into the movie.
Then again, there's still more than a handful of scenes where the cast's charm comes out, McAdams flashes that dazzling smile of hers, and it all seems pleasant enough for a matinee dipped in reasonable expectations. Like the three leads, the film is a blend of plucky enthusiasm (McAdams), a streak of bitterness (Ford), and a hint of embarrassment (Keaton, via 50 Cent), avoiding the big mistakes (no serious audience pandering or shrill stereotypes -- Katherine Heigl, are you paying attention?) and tries to learn from the little ones, until you're won over through sheer determination. They may be small, but Morning Glory is worth a smile or two, even if the teeth aren't showing.
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