“Morning Glory” – Awakens the Optimist in You

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Holiday time. You’re making yourself nuts trying to find a perfect gift for that imperfect person. The new salespeople, who’ve replaced the old, seasoned employees laid off courtesy of the Recession, would rather stare at their cell phones than be of aid. You beg relief from the madding crowd. Solution: Slip into a theater showing “Morning Glory.”

True, you’ll eventually have to get back to it. But for a happy while in the sanctuary of the dark, director Roger Michell’s heartwarming, romantic comedy will restore your faith in humankind. And you’ll make new friends, albeit temporary, as Diane Keaton, Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams etch morning TV show misfits tossed together by the fates.

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Meet Miss McAdams’s Becky Fuller, about 28, desperately trying to find a place for herself in the world. She left Fairleigh Dickinson University after three years to produce a morning show at a N.J. station. And then came the cruelest cut. Her identity gone, but not her spunk, the workaholic applies for every gig. Finally, the call comes. It’s station IBS.

She instantly blurts, “I’ll take it!”  But not so fast…she’ll have to come in for an interview. Station honcho Jerry Barnes, portrayed by Jeff Goldblum with signature, wry matter-of-factness, paints a grim picture: The morning show is in the dumper, there has been a succession of failed producers, and the network is thinking of canceling the mess.

Of course the bright-eyed gal isn’t deterred. And then we learn why the producer’s chair at “Daybreak” has never reached body temperature. What follows is rather predictable. But the engaging protagonists in this predominantly character-driven story practically make Aline Brosh McKenna’s (“The Devil Wears Prada”) screenplay seem inventive.

Playing the aged but very nicely preserved beauty queen, Diane Keaton is Colleen Peck, longtime co-anchor of the last place show. Unlike Harrison Ford’s gravely serious, world renowned Mike Pomeroy, impressed into service only via a loophole in his $6 Million contract, she doesn’t mind morning TV’s requisite bantering. Mike absolutely abhors it.

Truth is, while you can lead a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist to lighthearted, A.M. programming, Pomeroy is proof positive that you can’t make him dish it. Deadpan before the lens, he imparts the stubbornness of a rich, spoiled brat, which he is. Becky will just have to roll up her sleeves a mite further. But gosh, things look pretty doubtful.

We nonetheless exalt with vested interest in the good old college try she’s giving it. A somewhat less exasperating circumstance, if a bit too serendipity, is the sudden upswing in her social life. Unable to overlook the winsome ball of fire is Adam Bennett (Patrick Wilson), Brahmin, Yalie, former crew member and producer of a highly rated show.

Naturally, we, too, can’t help but become enamored of this Alice in TV Land, this young everywoman so desperate to make good. Miss McAdams, doing a contemporary update of the hopeful, single-minded ingénues Debbie Reynolds once so endearingly portrayed, assures the film’s special cachet as she becomes our guide to vicarious wish fulfillment.

Literally and fictionally anchoring the sweet whimsy, co-stars Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford imbue the effort with veteran credibility and a few fanciful flourishes of their own. Playing to the stereotype, but not without adding that there is more to former beauty queens-turned-newscasters than meets the eye, Miss Keaton does a nice turn.

But it’s Mr. Ford’s puffing and pouting that might very well win an Oscar nomination. Dancing dangerously near the edge of hamminess, his curmudgeon extraordinaire gifts the tale with the perfect obstacle. That he gets away with the wildly exaggerated slow burns made famous by character actor Edgar Kennedy is a testament to his command.

Complementing this fine core of interaction by helping establish a total milieu are the standout supporting players. In addition to Mr. Goldblum’s upstairs corporate Cassandra,
John Pankow is simpatico as Lenny, the soulful assistant and family man whose kind smiles and advice innately remind that career success is just one piece of life’s puzzle.

On a zanier plane, Matt Malloy is often hysterical as the buttoned-down Ernie Appleby, “Daybreak’s” man on the street longing to do a segment on weather vanes, but ultimately shanghaied into a series of daredevil stunts in quest of ratings. Handsomely keeping these balls in the air, director Michell and his three editors seamlessly weave it all together.

Mind you, this is no groundbreaking comedy. But an unpretentious dedication to craft ennobles what might have otherwise played like an extended sitcom segment. A happy combination of astute production values, an uplifting plot and the vivacity of a smart, ensemble cast, “Morning Glory” promises a cozy, feel-good night at the movies.

“Morning Glory,” rated PG-13, is a Paramount Pictures release directed by Roger Michell and stars Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. Running time: 102 minutes


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