Morning Glory was written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who wrote the script for The Devil Wears Prada, and the films are – barring incidental changes – basically the same. Both concern ambitious, naïve idealists who, by chance, find themselves within spitting distance of attaining the dream they had just about discarded. Both pictures are well-paced and sprinkled with sharp, appealing verbal zingers. Both pictures are driven by the give-and-take between the naïve idealist and the crusty, cynical old pro the idealist inevitably wins over. And both pictures are total crocks of shit.
Morning Glory opens on Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams), who works a grueling job as a cog in the machine of an extremely early morning news show. She’s the prototypical comedy heroine: the intelligent, do-gooder – with no life apart from her job – who needs to lighten up. We see Becky botching a date with a good looking guy early on, because she can’t ignore her phone long enough to even marginally humor him. (Never mind that her profession, at a news station, normally requires this sort of commitment, we’re in Hollywood’s playground.) Anyway, Becky is expecting to be promoted to executive producer, a position she’s clearly been coveting for quite a while. And then the hammer falls, she’s to be let go, so that the station can make room for a guy who possesses the right education on paper.
You know what the picture is setting you up for, as we’ve been here many times before, but you don’t mind at first. Rachel McAdams is an intensely talented performer, and she’s the rare beautiful actress whose looks are inclusive. McAdams has an open, gorgeous, fleshy face, and her eyes are darting and alive. She’s the kind of beautiful woman who gives nerds hope for having finally found that gorgeous woman who understands them. And McAdams plays a worrywart, the kind of girl who you have to believe is sexually frustrated despite her beauty because she’s trapped in her own head, beautifully. She would have been a screwball goddess, and she gives this film an appealing hum. You can’t be blamed for hoping, initially, that Morning Glory is one of those rare adult comedies that’s coherent and enjoyable.
After some trouble landing a new job, and after a sad conversation where her mother advises her to get real, Becky lands a job with the fictional TV station IBS, as executive producer of a Today type show that is pretty close to getting the ax. Her boss, played by Jeff Goldblum with his usual peerless curt timing, has little hope for her or the show. It’s a whim, an act committed by a hopeless cynic to temporarily amuse himself.
The show, as you’d expect given the comparison to The Today Show, is a collection of puff pieces: cooking tidbits, home improvement bits, Groundhog Dog coverage, weather reports, all presided over by two hosts there to feign flabbergast and amusement at every nothing aside thrown their way. The hosts are the usual male/female pairing, but Becky, in a ballsy move that immediately wins some respect, cans the guy, a pig who ditches the morning meetings and harasses the female staff. In another ballsy move, Becky – for reasons not really worth recounting – replaces the pig with the wonderfully named Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), an Edward Murrow kind of legend who stands for real news and has been all over the world seeking to cover the sorts of stories that drivel like The Today Show strives to distract us from. As Mike at one point suggests, why not market the show as the thing you watch before your first dump? Pomeroy, though, is a dying brand, as no one wants to hear his boring, depressing stories about government corruption or war or hunger.
Morning Glory has the makings for a wonderful, provocative comedy in an age that would much rather watch lavishly produced talent shows than coverage of Afghanistan. For awhile, the picture has a logical implication: that Pomeroy’s integrity will need to be joined with Becky’s ratings-consciousness in order to reach a higher population. In other words, lace the truth with a little showmanship without, hopefully, warping the message.
That will never happen in real life, but I’d love to see it in a movie. The problem is that the movie takes Becky’s side unquestionably. Mike is a dinosaur, the picture argues, a killjoy fuddy duddy who – God forbid – sees the news as something other than a glorified game show. Becky, our hero, is primarily concerned with one thing: saving this lame duck program in order to advance her name. If her drive were portrayed with a clear head – if you were allowed to understand that Becky, despite her eager-to-please, generally sympathetic and swell temperament, signified the monstrous frivolity that has taken over American media – then the picture might have added up to something interesting, contradictory and bracingly adult. But we’re supposed to see Becky as a cutie-pie, as a signifier of that can-do self-entitlement (that spurs other countries to hate us), of pursuing your dream no matter what anyone else may say.
I don’t want to mince words, I’m not striving for subtlety. The message at the heart of this picture is truly awful. Points are scored left and right on Mike – we’re supposed to laugh at him, and applaud when he, of course, finally gives in at the end and starts humoring Becky, so that she can show to her superiors that she finally tamed this once innovative pain in the ass. How could have Roger Michell, a gifted director who made, with The Mother, one of the most piercing, honest movies of the last decade, promoted this testament to conformity without a hint of irony?
That sentiment, indefensible, is the worst part of the picture, but there’s another troubling message that turns up in virtually every movie, particularly ones starring women, including, yes, The Devil Wears Prada. After successfully overseeing a shallow, dull show’s transformation into a flashy, shallow, dull show, Becky is invited by the real Today Show to join their staff, which, as we’re told earlier, basically represents everything she’s ever dreamed of. Becky, of course, turns it down, so that she can stay with her lower-profile show, which is now her family she says, and date her unthreatening hunk, and continue to preside over Mike’s humiliation and resignation (this is a happy ending, remember). Never mind that Becky’s boss was going to fire her until she started delivering, never mind that most of her staff has treated her as a child. Never mind that this is a once-in-a-life proposition. Also, never mind that Becky has shown concern for nothing except this achievement over the course of the picture. This is the usual anti-ambition crock that Hollywood loves to sell their audience, which they see as rubes, by showing that it’s okay that they may not have quite realized whatever ambition they may have had that’s grown progressively dimmer over the years. It’s okay! Have another baby, and make sure you don’t forget to DVR So You Think You Can Dance. Why can’t the hero ever take the money and the promotion? That would court common sense and deny the audience the cozy morality that’s entirely divorced from anything present in actual life.
The sad part is that Morning Glory is well-written, well-directed and well-performed, it’s an enjoyable piece of superficial work. Harrison Ford appears to finally be in on what people have been saying about his stiff, joyless performances over the last fifteen years, and he’s moving as a legend who can barely be bothered to raise his voice above a contemptuous whisper. Diane Keaton, as his frustrated co-host, is playing a self-involved bitch here – and it frees her from her suffocatingly cute role as spokesperson for “All that Women Over Fifty Can Be”, it’s her best work in years. The supporting roles, even the smallest, are vivid and enjoyable, partially because Michell’s characteristically generous direction allows them room to breathe. It’s an appealing picture to watch, but, folks, be careful, the message is disgusting. Don’t question the government. Don’t concern yourself with the outside world. Fuck. Eat. Chill. And settle. But, above all, consume whatever the big networks sell ya.