Did You Hear About the Morgans?
Directed by Marc Lawrence
Writer/director Marc Lawrence and woefully underused romcom star Hugh Grant are well-matched. Both men get by on well-practiced pangs of sincerity and together, over the course of their three collaborations, they've successfully eked out a good deal of modestly funny patter between Grant and his failed conquest du jour—even a few generic pearls of wisdom that surprisingly hold up to scrutiny. As in their last project, the breezy and sadly unsung Music and Lyrics, Lawrence and Grant teach us in their new film, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, that no relationship is ever equal, and what matters is that an effort is made to compensate for that inequality—providing the film with a sincerity sorely wanting in most big-budget rom-coms .
Lumpy as it may be, Did You Hear About the Morgans? works as well as it does because Lawrence often goes out of his way to show the audience that he's trying not to be too obnoxious or broad, instead serving up the kind of sleepy, though mostly winning, sense of sardonic humor that Grant has made a career out of. And along the way, there are genuine moments of romantic tenderness, strained as they may be in their attempt to impress the audience with their sincerity. Grant might as well be breaking the fourth wall with his ever-rolling, basset hound eyes when he tells his wife, "I want you to expect everything from me. I won't be able to give it to you but I promise I will try."
Beginning on the Upper West Side, Did You Hear About the Morgans? starts out like a scrapped Manhattan Murder Mystery sequel: in spite of Paul's (Grant) fruitless attempts at reconciliation, he and his wife Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker) are separated and now considering a divorce. He cheated on her and she just can't forgive him—until they both witness a murder and are forced into the witness relocation program. Lawrence equips the couple, mostly through Paul's insistent dry quips, with the right amount of distance from their circumstances to make their contrived new life in Wyoming as painless as possible. Together they learn to accept each other's limitations while fretting and joking their way through bear attacks, sleepless nights without noise pollution or the internet and riled-up rodeo bulls named "Bullkiller." It's a paint-by-numbers story, but Lawrence does a surprisingly admirable job of staying within the lines and looking good while doing it.
Earnest as Lawrence's script may be, the fact that Parker's usual neuroses are meant to complement Grant's detachment only serves to make everything in their relationship inherently lopsided. Parker cedes most of the better lines to Grant because she's the harried shrew and he's her straight man (Who else would you want to give that ineffable pained, questioning look that Grant does so well?). Likewise, even though they're presented as more than just pistol-packing Palin lovers, Clay and Mary (Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen), the Morgans' hosts, conform to more than they defy red state stereotypes. (After Meryl tells them that she's a vegetarian, Elliott chuckles beneath his impressive mustache, "We always fear that there'll be one in the family"). There's only so much Lawrence can do working so classily within the formula he's chosen, but that too is because he truly likes it too much to substantially change it. A minor effort is made, but all that does is make Did You Hear About the Morgans? a great choice for your in-flight movie.
Opens December 18