The inner workings of the media have not been depicted onscreen with the incisiveness of Morning Glory in years. Twenty-three of them to be exact, since James L. Brooks released his seminal Broadcast News, the ensemble comedy that convincingly revealed the behind-the-scenes machinations and romantic triangles at an evening news program.
Roger Michell’s film is the 2010 morning show set answer to Brooks’ work. Above all, it trades in two fundamental truths: the media has gotten dumber and even more filled with personalities slavishly devoted to a fast-paced, go-getter, plugged-in workaholic lifestyle. Fundamentally ensconced in the longstanding tradition of screwball boardroom comedies, Morning Glory is nonetheless attuned to the way we get our information and to the pressures of a society placing an increasingly sharp emphasis on networking and fraternization — superficiality over substance.
On a simpler level, the film offers an appealing lead performance from Rachel McAdams and an engagingly frenzied rendering of the personality clashes and split-second decisions that complicate live broadcasts. The Canadian actress, who has never quite become the star she should be, plays Becky, an ambitious producer hired by fourth-place network IBS to rejuvenate last-place morning show. There, she finds she has stepped into the proverbial mind field, rife with bitter anchors (Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford), incompetent pitches, unfathomable last-minute crises and the pressures of a network itching to cancel.
Helping matters, to whatever possible extent, is hunky news producer/love interest Adam Bennett (Patrick Wilson), who offers a sounding board for Becky and drops her incessantly buzzing smart phone in the freezer when it’s high time for a break.
Yet the relationship that gives the picture its heft is not theirs, but that between Becky and her uncooperative, snobbish anchor Mike Pomeroy (Ford), winner of Peabody Awards and Emmys, who gleefully savages the innocuous operation and refuses all requests for compromise. It’s a platonic, paternalistic relationship that also encapsulates the struggle underway for the media’s soul, the forces of infotainment waging war against the last vestige of the old serious guard.
It’s a pleasure to watch McAdams desperately try to charm the pants off the old coot, and for once Ford puts his crotchety persona to effective use, giving Mike an undercurrent of sweetness and vulnerability. An appealing cast of oddballs — think 30 Rock lite — surrounds them, while screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna crafts some engaging, rapid-fire backstage banter.
The movie supplements its quick-witted, fast-paced depiction of behind-the-scenes turmoil with loving, sun-drenched images of Manhattan in all its flashy commercial glory. Towering skyscrapers, immaculately designed parks and glittering apartments entrench the film in the best New York valentine tradition. Cotton candy glitter with showstopper comic set pieces, the movie offers grand old-fashioned fun tinged with the sad truth that when it comes to broadcast television, the lines between entertainment and news have irrevocably blurred.
The Upside: The movie is a fun, fast-paced valentine to network news in New York City. Rachel McAdams and, yes, Harrison Ford are top-notch.
The Downside: Diane Keaton is criminally underused.
On the Side: Real newsmen Morley Safer, Bob Schieffer and Chris Matthews make cameos.