The end of the year tends to bring about the release of a new James L. Brooks movie or, more often than not, an imitation James L. Brooks movie usually directed by Nancy Meyers, who I would say now makes them better than Brooks does. Morning Glory might be described as a fake imitation James L. Brooks movie. It's trying for the same mixture of romance and repartee and social observation, but it's pretty light on all three. Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill), from a script by Aline Brosh McKenna (The Devil Wears Prada), the movie would like to be the Broadcast News of happy-talk morning shows, but it isn't just the setting that's sillier and more superficial; the whole film is really just a chintzy work-family sitcom. Yet I suspect that Morning Glory will find an audience, if only because as mediocre as the picture often is, it features the sort of tasty, ham-on-cheese movie-star overacting that's undeniable lowbrow fun.
You know a movie isn't aiming high when it serves up the clash of values between sturdy, responsible old-school news reporting and dumbed-down coffee-time froth and the movie favors the froth. Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) is an aspiring TV producer who loses her job at a New Jersey station and then, through a blend of desperation and overactive charm, talks her way into a position as executive producer of Daybreak, a notoriously bad fourth-ranked morning show on which the coanchors have been grinning at each other for so long that their teeth look ready to fall out. McAdams, all googly doe eyes and nervous dimpled grins, infuses this go-getter with enough schoolgirl vivacity, enough spunk, to terrify Mary Tyler Moore. She's perfectly appealing, provided you don't mind that she plays every scene on the exact same level of perky, eager-to-please caffeinated energy.
Her opposite number is Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a bombastic nightly-news legend who's been put out to pasture by IBS, the same network that produces Daybreak. Unluckily for him, he's idolized by Becky, who forces him to finish out his contract by recruiting him as the show's new cohost. He's supposed to sit beside Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), the longtime chatty diva of a coanchor, and engage her in smiley chitchat between kitschy-koo segments about kittens and meatball recipes. But Mike, a beady-eyed stentorian grouch who is terminally serious about TV news and his own fame and importance, is so wrong for the role that he won't stoop to smile, let alone banter.
Some actors get mellower as they get older. Harrison Ford has gotten slower a lot slower and angrier, too. In his movies, he now ''converses'' in a voice that's halfway between a growl and a mumble. It's as though he were reading every line off a rusty TelePrompTer in his brain. At 68, however, Ford is still a magnetic hunk of gray-granite movie star, and in Morning Glory, he finds a way to trick up his deadly somber, shifting-quicksand delivery into a shrewd and amusing acting style. As Mike, he's an outrageously stone-faced comedian who basically plays a surlier Lou Grant to McAdams' MTM-ish Becky. We expect that Mike, with his furrowed handsome frown, his utter lack of humor, and his perpetual you-want-me-to-do-WHAT? attitude, will thaw as the movie goes on, but Ford never wavers. For just about all of Morning Glory, he plays Mike with a sullen rasp and a lugubrious hostility that make him seem like Clint Eastwood with a touch of Bela Lugosi. Forget that Mike doesn't want to be on the show; Ford looks like he barely wants to be in the movie. And that's why he's easily the best thing in it.
Morning Glory, when it's not stuck in boringly generic romantic scenes with McAdams and Patrick Wilson, is, of course, about how Becky turns Daybreak into a huge success not by improving its quality but by filling it with shameless, pandering stunts. Where Broadcast News mourned the trivialization of the nightly news, Morning Glory asks you to learn to stop worrying and love the trivia. That's the big lesson Mike has to learn; it's a lesson the movie peddles to its audience as well. I wasn't buying it, not for a moment. But at least it's a lesson that Harrison Ford acts out through clenched teeth. B-