Rachel McAdams is so damn charming, and so relatively selective about her projects, that she's been able to disguise what is looking more and more like a penchant for the kind of movies some dismiss as "chick flicks" and I dismiss as "something Katherine Heigl might star in, or at least watch while eating ice cream in one of her other, far worse movies." To be fair, it's not all window dressing: Mean Girls has that post-Heathers sociological edge (and is hilarious); The Time Traveler's Wife comes from a great, tough book; and even that risible Notebook movie eclipses other Sparks adaptations thanks to McAdams and co-star Ryan Gosling.
In Morning Glory, McAdams and company attempt to elevate the story of a single gal in the city, and if the standard-bearer remains The Devil Wears Prada, they succeed wildly. McAdams plays Becky, a television producer who gets her big break when she's hired to revitalize Daybreak, a long-running and long-failing morning news program in the vein of Good Morning America, Today, and, as Jeff Goldbum's executive character tosses off, "whatever they call that one on CBS." Becky recruits ousted news anchor Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to join Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) at the Daybreak desk, hoping Pomeroy's respectability will lift spirits and ratings.
The chafed relationship between McAdams and Ford generates a frazzled energy. Ford growls like a jungle animal, ready to add chipper executive producers to Nazis, snakes, and people who won't get off his plane on the list of stuff he hates. Of course, he develops a grudging respect (is there a non-begrudged type of Ford's respect?) watching McAdams throw herself into the job—as well as through many heavy doors, a visual motif of the movie. McAdams is playing a stock part—fast-talking, klutzy, a master at her job but not in relationships—but like Becky, she powers straight through, refusing to quit until she gets some pathos and a few laughs.
It's easy, then, to regard the backstage machinations of Daybreak with amusement, morning infotainment being such a peculiar (and potentially outdated yet ever-present) TV subculture, covered with fast-paced detail here. A trickier task: discerning what we're supposed to take away from this gentle ribbing beyond Becky's plucky tenacity. She doesn't have a vision for the show so much as a singular diligence for keeping it moving; no one makes much of a case for morning news as an art form. This is realistic; we probably don't need the Aaron Sorkin version where Daybreak becomes a vessel for the best society has to offer (though a little of this seeps in via Becky's awe of the Today show—is she wowed and humbled by their daily coverage of murdering husbands and Amanda Knox?).
But while it touches upon Pomeroy's categorical objection to yellow-and-pink journalism, Morning Glory is less interested in the battle between news and entertainment than a cursory conflict between career and romance, with the part of "romance" played with amiable blankness by Patrick Wilson. Wilson is supposed to be a golden boy, but the way he's described by Daybreak staffers -- as the Yale crew-rowing son of respected journalists -- inadvertently makes him sound more like the faded jock he inhabited so well in Little Children. The script makes little use of Wilson's skill or nuance, and leaves his character's lightweight privilege unremarked upon except as swoony exposition. Even with a dull love interest, Morning Glory has less sap and more snap than some of its competition, but the idea that women might enjoy it without chick-flick trappings doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone involved; instead, they've made the best (or okayest) of a lame situation. With a soppy adult-pop soundtrack and midtown Manhattan milieu, it's like watching a pretty good movie inside a Starbucks.
Opens November 10