Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Agony and the Ecstasy of "Morning Glory"

OK, by now you all ought to know that I'm "big" on Harrison Ford. I love the man, and his recent poor film choices can never wash away the positive memories of his work in the past. I can honestly say that I never flat-out hated a Harrison Ford movie until the absolute abortion that was 2009's Crossing Over. Now, that being said, I also am cognizant of the fact that the man's output since the turn of the century (and probably a couple of years before) has been spotty.

I'm actually quite fond of What Lies Beneath and K-19: The Widowmaker. Hollywood Homicide is something that just reeks of having read better than it was executed. Six Days, Seven Nights and Firewall are star vehicles that just didn't gell, and I haven't seen Extraordinary Measures, in fact, I'm terrified to see it.

Then there's Random Hearts, and, in a way, I can equate that movie with the new release, Morning Glory.

Now, there's nothing really about these films in tone, genre or style that would equate them, but what they do have is a pretty damn strong Harrison Ford performance swamped in a pretty weak script. Now, of the two, Morning Glory fares far better, as the unrelenting obsession of Ford's Dutch Van Der Broeck in Random Hearts pretty much upsets the entire film.

Not to get into it too far, but the will they/won't they at the center of Random Hearts doesn't matter at all when Ford's character is clearly unhinged by losing his wife, and finding out she was cheating , in one fell swoop. It's a committed, logical choice that fits the character (and may also be true to the book, I don't know), but it steps across a line. We don't like Dutch, and there's no character to pull us back into the story, because Kristin Thomas is a total cold fish. It's, at the core, as brave a performance as Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast, but there we had River Phoenix's Charlie to cling to. 
So, how is Morning Glory similar? Well, Ford gives a really strong performance (don't worry, I will get to the rest of the cast), in a script that almost completely lets him down. It's also a performance where Ford seems absolutely unconcerned with trying to make the audience like the character. He's called "the third worst person in the world" at one point, and I think Ford took that as the keynote line.

Yeah, Ford's Mike Pomeroy is a pretty huge bastard for almost every last second of the running time. This performance makes me feel that Ford is absolutely aware of his current reputation as a "grumpy old man" on film, and ready to use that. He, frankly uses it to perfection here. I'd have to say that every, single laugh-out-loud moment in this movie comes from Ford. (I may be short-changing Jeff Goldblum's weird almost-cameo, but whatever.) He clearly understands comedy and timing, and the jabs he takes at, well, pretty much everyone in the cast, hit the target. (Personal favorite; "Senor Shithead" - which I may start using) I had gobs of fun watching Ford work this character, and this material.
I do find it interesting that some people are looking at this performance as "more of the same," but I think it's intentionally more of the same. Clearly, your mileage may vary. I just know he made me laugh.

The rest of the film, alas, gets kind of ground up and spit out. Rachel McAdams is a lovely, and appealing screen presence. She carries the film, and displays a ton of "oh she's so cute!" awkward goofiness. However, her performance did spark an interesting conversation in the car on the way home, in regards to female leads in romantic comedies/"chick flicks." The scripts always go out of their way to let us know that these are competent, hard working women, yet the performances seem to go overboard in making them into goony-bird spazmatics. It's almost like the idea is "make them competent, but not TOO competent, because then the girls in the audience might start to feel inferior."

I mean, really...It seems like, ever since the Brigit Jones craze, female leads have become more and more ridiculous. Annie Hall was odd and quirky, but we didn't need to see her drop a paint bucket on her head, or forget to put on her skirt when running out of the apartment (as CByrd said: who does that?), in order to relate to her. It's kinda condescending, in my humble opinion.

I mean, look at a truly excellent romantic comedy, Love, Actually. the female characters are very funny, and very real. We don't need to see them doing pratfalls and getting tongue-tied at even the thought of interest from a man. One of the large missteps in Morning Glory, and many other recent films like it, is that the filmmakers want us to believe that our heroine is growing in power and stature, but the stupid bits she has to perform undermine that growth.

It's also extremely sad to see Annie Hall herself, Diane Keaton, so ill-served by this script. She does get some extremely nice moments of one-upmanship with Ford. The battle for who will tell the audience good-bye, for example, is really quite classic, and executed with restraint and skill. Outside of that, however, the character is simply a cipher, there's not enough screen time to make her into a "real person."

Now, I do realize I've been rather harsh in my comments here, but, honestly, I've seen much, much worse films in this genre. The cast is appealing, even when underused, and it's a pleasant enough film to watch. What gets to me is that I feel like there was a really good movie under all the "standard romantic comedy playbook" stuff that overwhelms the film. Hell, the romance, with Patrick Wilson, is utterly forgettable. The core relationship is between McAdams and Ford, and they never even hint at a May-December romance, thankfully. It's full-out father/daughter stuff, with cryptic lines that hint that there was a lot more father material involved before editing.

If this is your kind of movie, you'll want to see it, and you'll likely enjoy it. If you're a Harrison Ford fan, you'll want to see it, because he pretty much hits a comedic bulls-eye. It's not surprising to me that it has a pretty paltry opening weekend, because there's just not much distinctive here. You've seen it before, and it serves as what it's supposed to be, cinematic comfort food.

In that respect, it does it's job.


  1. Senor shithead? ....I personally like the phrase "goony bird spazmatic" better.

  2. I know far more people that "Senor Shithead" will apply to. Off the top of my head I only know one "goony bird spazmatic" ;)

  3. Just from a readers point of view, the red on black is really, really hard to read. Any thoughts about changing the colors to a more eye-friendly format?

  4. Red on black? I have it set for white on black...That's how I see it.