Nov 12, 2010

REVIEW: Morning Glory (dir. Roger Michell)

For all the time we spend feeling guilty about being mindlessly entertained, or lamenting the endless distractions of the 24-hour industrial-entertainment complex, its amazing to me how little time we spend actually being entertained. Most of the comedies that are distributed by Hollywood are so gruellingly unfunny, most of its romances so bra-snappingly unromantic, that you could almost be forgiven for just giving up and watching back-to-back mumblecore movies, and come out calling them "unrelenting", "unflinching" or whatever it is we're supposed to say. Almost, but then a movie like Morning Glory comes along and you remember: oh that's what Hollywood does. It entertains. That's what entertainment feels like. It's entertaining — in the case of Morning Glory, so wantonly entertaining that you come out purring with pleasure, at a distance of roughly six inches above the sidewalk. I even softened up on the woman at the back of the cinema who insisted on greeting each joke with a blood-curdling shriek closely modelled on one of those sacrificial virgins in an old Hammer horror film. By the end I was sloppy with the milk of human kindness: ah, there she blows. It's a very good film.

So where did this come from?
It’s a bummer that any given episode in a network show like “Lost,” even at its most muddled, was tighter and conveyed greater respect for the audience’s intelligence (even as, yes, it tested your everlasting patience) than the entirety of “Morning Glory.” Ms. McKenna, who adapted “The Devil Wears Prada” for the screen, arms this script with laugh-out-loud lines, only to undercut them with soggy filler involving Becky’s romance with another producer, Adam (Patrick Wilson), and her equally suspense-free relationship with her reluctant new anchor, the gruff and boozy Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford). The bland wall-to-wall pop songs — see Becky dress, cue “New Shoes” — drum the obvious home.
It's Manila Blah-Blahnik, writing in the New York Times, and evidently not having as much fun as she had watching Philip Seymour Hoffman going slowly bald in Synecdoche New York. Or an episode of Lost. Quite why the comparison with a TV conspiracy thriller about a bunch of plane crash victims stranded on a desert island suggested itself to Blahnik, other than as a kooky join-the dots exercise involving the production company of producer JJ Abrams, is a mystery that passeth human understanding. If Lost is your benchmark for chick flicks, then Morning Glory is almost certainly going to come up empty, I'm afraid. So, for that matter, is Steel Magnolias, Terms of Endearment, or All About Eve, all of which, the last time I looked, resolutely failed to feature any desert islands, crashed aeroplanes or smoke monsters, in this temporal plane or the next. That is their loss. Maybe they could do with more bite.
A few of Mr. Michell’s previous films, notably “The Mother”and “Enduring Love,” have had bite, unlike “Morning Glory,” which is so insistently, at times desperately, upbeat that it feels strung out on a cocktail of antidepressants and bad test-audience results.
A classic maneuvre: tar a commercial hit with inference of cunning or calculation, dial it up to 'desperation', then sit back and pull its wings off ("Yes it works, in its irksome 'laugh-out-loud' way, but only because it intends to be funny".) Even David Edelstein, a critic with an alarminglyhigh tolerance for having a good time, manages to pull a scowl, calling the film "the latest cookie-cutter chick comedy by The Devil Wears Prada screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna". If that was meant as a sneer, it makes no headway in our house, where The Devil Wears Prada is revered on an almost daily basis as a model of tart, lemony screenwriting and spiritual largesse, marred only by a flimsy final act, a flaw Morning Glory irons out beautifully, much in the spirit of an Olympic mountaineer this time remembering to top the snow-capped peaks of excellence with a biodegradable flag. But I digress. Edelstein has faint praise to dish out.
Morning Glory isn’t terrible. It has a lot of craft, a lot of star power, and a fair number of laughs. What irks me is that the filmmakers settle for so little. They poke fun at Daybreak, at the whole artificial, shallow, self-satisfied genre of TV morning shows, yet they approach their own genre — the comic chick flick — with no more inspiration than the people who make those shows. They follow the formula, no matter how insipid and predictable, because they know their core audience won’t have anything else to do and it’s better if they’re only half awake.
Wake up, people! Comedy is a subjective business, one's man's goose is another man's gander and all that, but come on. Insipid. Predictable. Formulaic. Cookie-cutter. Not terrible. I hope Edelstein is not holding his breath for something better because Morning Glory is about as good as Hollywood gets right now — or maybe he fancies his chances with Due Date? Over at Hollywood Elsewhere, Jeff Wells has a theory.

Critics have obviously been jettisoned from newspapers over the last few years in much the same way that crusty older news guys like Harrison Ford's Mike Pomery, an old-school Dan Rather type, have been put out to pasture by TV networks. And so they're hardly snickering at Pomery's predicament. They're saying, "Hey, that's us!" They resent that Morning Glory presents Ford mainly as a grumpy, semi-alcoholic bear who doesn't get it, and not as a semi-good guy who represents an in-depth news tradition that's being slowly weakened or diminished... They feel that Morning Glory is basically embracing the modern media's general tendency to embrace fluff over substance, tweets over news articles and Ben Lyons-type movie enthusiasts over critics with experience and taste with a background of serious study and decades of film-watching.

A review by the Christian Science Monitor's Peter Rainier confirms the thesis.

Morning Glory is about how Rachel pulls Daybreak out of the basement by, you guessed it, dumbing it down ever further into imbecility," he writes. "This might be an acceptable premise for a comedy except for one thing: The filmmakers endorse the imbecility. Morning Glory is a tribute to low standards and high ratings - just the sort of thing Hollywood can get firmly behind.

There's nothing quite like the phrase "dumbing down" to mark a writer's brave stand against the rising tide of cliche. There's no way to settle this, outside of a duel, or meeting back here in thirty years and see which one we're still watching:
Morning Glory or Synecdoche New York. For now, I will simply have to make do with raising the mighty sword of justice, the one forged in the smithy of my soul from the uncreated conscience of my race, and by the power invested in me by this blog, declare that the critics are flat-out wrong on this one and that Morning Glory will go forth from this day, live long and prosper in the hearts of men, women and children throughout this benighted republic. B+


  1. This reminds me of Dana Stevens' "Extraordinary Measures" review, where she notes that much of lowbrow art has become exalted, and that middlebrow is the new lowbrow.

  2. Thanks so much for the tip-off. She was quoting a book by Carl Wilson called Let's Talk About Love.
    I have immediately gone out and bought a copy, since I have long believed that the middle-brow needs to be reclaimed by those brave enough to do it.

  3. Great review Tom. It's one of those movies whose trailer might turn off some but ends up being a really good surprise when you end up seeing it. It's fluffy and the script is messy but the cast make Morning Glory so charming and likable. Glad to see McAdams getting nearly universal acclaim for this, it's too bad it will all be forgotten because this is just a lightweight rom-com...

  4. I must admit I'm shocked at the critical treatment it's gotten and I'm not easily shocked by critics. I have begun to wonder whether my Englishness doesn't give me immunity to all this outrage over the demise of the news anchor. We don't really have any Tom Brokaws in the UK, so Morning Glory doesn't feel like it's treading on sacred ground to me.

  5. Just another sign that some critics are full of themselves really. I don't understand why they are looking so hard into the thematic content of this movie when it's obviously just a crowd-pleasing lightweight comedy. Not every movie is aspiring to win an Oscar!

  6. We all liked it a lot here--sure, it's ham-handed in its plotting and humor, but it's also entertaining, charming, well-paced, well-played--with Boat and Cocoa laughing the longest and loudest. The comparison to Lost reminds why I don't even bother reading Dargis anymore. Certainly not before I've seen the movie, because she ALWAYS gives stuff away, often in the first paragraph, but not after, either.

  7. Swords and other metal objects are forged in smithies not smiths.

  8. After Wolcott's endorsement, and the link to your essay, I went to see it. My companion and I were astounded by your accolades. He mentioned that y'all must have a connection to the filmmakers, or someone in the movie. It was that bad. It began with a lousy script. Terrible movie. Just awful, groan-worthy awful.

  9. A very entertaining film combined with romance, comedy and a unique blend of a commentary on society. Interesting indeed!