Hope and Anchors: Morning Glory Is the Smartest, Funniest Comedy I’ve Seen in Years

mg 06648rv2 Hope and Anchors: Morning Glory Is the Smartest, Funniest Comedy I’ve Seen in YearsMorning Glory, not to be confused with the 1933 classic starring Katharine Hepburn, is the smartest, sharpest, funniest and most consistently entertaining comedy since The Devil Wears Prada, and no wonder. Both films were written by Aline Brosh McKenna, and both deal with similar themes–the can-do spirit of fresh, indomitable newcomers in tough, jaded and fatally pessimistic worlds, pitted against the implacable chaos and cynicism of older, more competitive colleagues. The fashion world Anne Hathaway hit head-on in Prada is not so different from the television industry that Rachel McAdams struggles to conquer in Morning Glory. Plunging from once glamorous heights of quality, excitement and distinction, fashion and television have both hit rock bottom, and the only challenging thing about either profession today is staying alive.

The cast is perfect (scowling irascibly like Clifton Webb, Mr. Ford has never been this good).

The sweet, plaque-free smile of Ms. McAdams is relentlessly captivating as she tackles the role of Becky Fuller, the sunny new producer of “Daybreak”, the lowest-rated of TV’s top three network morning shows. (There must be another network we don’t know about, because The Today Show, CBS Morning News and Good Morning America are all tossed around constantly, and when this movie gets through with them, they all need Band-Aids.) “Daybreak” is a burial ground for every producer who has ever tried to save it, but while Becky has no national news experience, she has enough grit and ambition to hit the ground running. She skins her knee before her first production meeting, and it’s downhill from there, as she faces her biggest pothole: the head-butting ego clash between Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a legendary anchorman formerly of the evening prime-time news who has turned so sour with resentment over his demotion that he will do anything to get out of his forced contract; and his nemesis and co-star, Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), a babbling, ditsy former beauty queen hanging on to her limited talent and fading ability to project personality at dawn to an audience of viewers so old and tired they can’t even find their alarm clocks.

As the center of the inevitable head-butting of two formidable adversaries, Becky is a cheerful, ravaged office heroine going through the perils of Job. At 28, fired by “Good Morning, New Jersey” as a victim of budgetary downsizing, and with the bleakest of prospects for the future, she’s got to make this job work. Eternally optimistic, she takes on with pluck abysmal ratings, outdated studios and museum-piece camera equipment harking back to the days of Captain Kangaroo and Ding Dong School and a network CEO (Jeff Goldblum) who doesn’t expect her to last beyond the next commercial break. Her one ray of hope is a new love interest with a fellow producer named Adam (Patrick Wilson), but as the demands of the show drives a wedge between them every time they move closer to the bedroom, Becky finds herself black and blue trying to save her love life, her reputation, her job and “Daybreak,” too.

The best stuff in Morning Glory, a coin flip between one-liners, is in the first hour, when the Ford-Keaton team work up so much lather hating each other that he storms off the show and she calls him an “A-hole” while the cameras are still running. The chaos in the control room as all this transpires is hilarious. Pomeroy prefers stories about microfinance in Asia to segments on preparing baked Alaska. “Half the people who watch your show have lost their remotes–the other half is waiting for their nurse to turn them over,” he rants. Peabodys, Emmys and a Pulitzer–and now this? The hard-drinking rough guy with 40 years of broadcasting experience considers celebrity gossip, weather and cooking tips far beneath his dignity. All of which gives Harrison Ford a role that fits him like a condom. He gets to be gruff, granite-faced, mean-spirited, rude and pessimistic, never cracking a smile and scowling like a rat just died in the studio’s air-conditioning pipes. Think Dan Rather. Or better yet, think Eric Sevareid.

Meanwhile, the film takes you to “21″, Elaine’s and the Algonquin. You rub elbows with Chris Matthews, Morley Safer and Bob Schieffer. You also see a lot of New York before the first crack of dawn that even veteran New Yorkers don’t see. You sure get your money’s worth, in more ways than one.

Instead of saving “Daybreak,” Becky sees it get canceled. In the six weeks she’s got left, the Becky does things to get the ratings up that give the movie jolt of energy, filling the a.m. hours with the tackiest, most exaggerated and humiliating crap in TV history: Diane Keaton sumo wrestling, the weather man getting his butt tattooed on camera and worse. Naturally the American public loves it and the ratings go through the roof. The more the co-hosts insult each other, the more viewers can’t wait to tune in. Where does this leave Mr. Ford? When he invades the governor’s front yard and corners him in an exclusive in the middle of his arrest on racketeering and prostitution charges, he proves a point of his own–that a great story can also be great TV, even at 7 a.m.

The film is not flawless, though. In its final scramble to the finish line, in time for a happy ending, Morning Glory strains credulity and comes dangerously close to falling to pieces. Becky is always rushing to her boss with overnight ratings clutched in her hand to show him how much the show is improving daily. Closer research on the part of screenwriter McKenna and director Roger Michell (Notting Hill) would have proven how phony those scenes are. Executive producers and network CEOs know everything about their programs. They do not need staff members to quote ratings; they get the overnights delivered to their apartments before anyone else ever sees them. Mr. Ford’s character is often referred to as “the third worst person in the world.” The second worst is Angela Lansbury “and she knows what she did.” No further explanation. The audience looks bewildered. Nobody laughs. If this is a joke, it backfires. And then there’s the effort to establish a stirring of vulnerability beneath Mr. Ford’s granite face, culminating in his striding onto the set voluntarily wearing an apron, heating skillets and cracking eggs to prepare his secret recipe for the perfect “fluffy” frittata. “Later this week,” he grins goofily, “I’ll show you how to make really fantastic beignets!” Becky is so broadsided she turns down a job with NBC. If you believe this is the way television works, I’ve got this building called Rockefeller Center I can sell you cheap.

Still, I had such a good time watching Morning Glory that pointing out such small caveats seems churlish. The cast is perfect (scowling irascibly like Clifton Webb, Mr. Ford has never been this good). There’s a lot of eye candy. Some of the on-camera bitchery between Mr. Ford and Ms. Keaton is laugh-out-loud witty. For the most part, Morning Glory is a delicious movie that will make you jump for joy.

Morning Glory
Running time 110 minutes
Written by Aline Brosh McKenna
Directed by Roger Mitchell
Starring Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, Harrison Ford, Jeff Goldblum, Patrick Wilson

3/4

rreed@observer.com