When people talk about good physical comedy, what they’re typically talking about is big stuff that goes way over the top, like Jim Carrey in “The Mask.” And certainly, that’s impressive. It’s impressive to look back at Buster Keaton and the way he would hurl himself through his films. I respect people who can go big and who can tie themselves in knots, but I don’t think that’s the only thing that matters in physical comedy. I think that really strong physical performers can simply add small flourishes to a character, physical quirks and mannerisms, that are genuinely funny and endearing, and that’s not easy. The subtle work is often the hardest, and if that’s the case, then we should probably start talking seriously about Rachel McAdams as a physical comedian of some import, because the work she does in the new comedy “Morning Glory” is genuinely impressive.
Roger Michell is a strong filmmaker who is capable of making glossy but honest fluff, something that should not be undervalued as a skill. His “Notting Hill” is one of the few Julia Roberts vehicles that I wholeheartedly adore. “Changing Lanes” is a solid exercise, and both “Enduring Love” and “The Mother” are underrated. With “Morning Glory,” he’s working in mainstream mode again, and at heart, this is just “The Devil Wears Prada” in the world of morning television. After all, Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote the scripts for “Prada” and “27 Dresses,” is the screenwriter here, and she’s not shaking up the formula at all. Her main character, Becky Fuller (McAdams), is a girl with a dream, and that dream is the “Today” show. She works as a producer of a local Jersey morning show, and when she’s suddenly cut loose from that job, she manages to talk her way into the position as the executive producer of the fourth place network morning show.
It’s a wasteland when she gets there, ruled by Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), the show’s long-suffering host in search of a co-host. She’s gone through bunches of them, including the current Idiot In Residence Paul McVee (Ty Burrell), and she’s remained the only constant on the show. It’s up to Becky to turn the show around somehow and prove that she’s the girl for the “Today” job that she’s always dreamed of. Simple girl-power formula fare, and it plays out as you’d expect. There is a guy, played by Patrick Wilson with the dreamy turned up to ten, and their relationship could almost be measured out by a stopwatch. It unfolds with absolute mechanical precision. Flirt. Fall into bed. Things are good. Everyone’s smiling. Things are hard. Let’s break up. But gosh we look good together. Roll credits. But with Wilson and McAdams playing it, they’re both so effortlessly likable that this perfunctory subplot plays out as painlessly as possible.
The film “Broadcast News” is 22 years old at this point, and it’s getting a release soon on Criterion Blu-ray that I hope leads to people rediscovering just how great Brooks was at both laying out a difficult and wrenching romantic scenario and laying out a smart dissection of the battle for the soul of network news at the time. “Morning Glory” is not as strong in either regard, but that’s sort of the charm of it. Each of the main storylines is handled well. There’s the story of Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), the beloved and respected anchor who was retired by the network and who ends up taking the seat beside Colleen. There’s the way Becky handles her ultimatum from her boss, Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum) regarding getting the ratings of the show up or risk having the program cancelled. And, of course, there’s the romantic arc. And all of it is juggled well, and all of it is anchored by McAdams at her most winning. She is vulnerable and strong and smart and a complete ding-dong and sexy and awkward, and the way she makes it all seem organic and of a piece? Well, that’s why directors love her and want to work with her. She could probably make four films a year that follow the same basic formula as this one, and they’d probably all make money, but she seems to have held out for a total package that would be worth her involvement. At the screening I attended tonight, most of the people seated around me were women between 25-45, and most of them in groups, and they couldn’t resist chatting about McAdams throughout. She would make some fumble or some drop her cell phone or nervously talk too much, and the women behind me would sigh and say, “Oh, I love her. She’s such a nerd.” They must have called her a “nerd” or a “spaz” twenty times. And each time, it sounded like they loved her more. This isn’t the most challenging work she’s ever done, but it might be the most appealing.
It helps that Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton are both game for whatever’s required of them here. No one is more delighted than I am to give a glowing recommendation to a Harrison Ford performance, and he seems engaged and energized by his role. Secretly Sentimental Curmudgeon is a role that suits him well, and he seems to enjoy playing off of Keaton as much as he enjoys playing off of McAdams. Different energy with each, but it’s great to see him enjoying himself so apparently. I think a lot of people forget that the career of JJ Abrams, whose Bad Robot produced this film, sort of began with Harrison Ford. Abrams was, I believe, nine years old when he wrote “Regarding Henry,” the film that always felt like the film Harrison Ford made when he realized he should have made “Big.” I like what this represents for him, a much cooler choice than he’s made in a while. I don’t need to see Harrison Ford making stuff like “Trash Humpers” or “Last Tango In Paris” to respect his choices… I just need to see that he’s committed to whatever he is making, that it matters to him, and this time out, it feels like we got the 100% Harrison Ford.
You won’t be shocked or surprised by much of “Morning Glory,” but I found myself entertained by the film from end to end, thanks to expert direction and the ridiculously adorable work by McAdams. This could easily turn into one of the world-of-mouth hits of the fall season, and should get about another 1000 “Why isn’t Rachel McAdams the biggest star alive?” stories written. I’d say that’s about all one could ask for a mainstream chick flick these days, and when delivered as well as this, all one would want.