Rachel McAdams most recently played Sasha Pfeiffer, a Boston Globe reporter who helped expose the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-up of sexual abuse, in the Oscar winning film Spotlight. A meticulous, understated study on journalism, the much lauded movie sparked conversations about the value of newspapers, the role of investigative reporting, and the handling of abuse within the Church.
Morning Glory, McAdams’s earlier outing in the same field, doesn’t do that. Instead, it comments on impossible work relationships rather than exploring an existential crisis in the profession. It is, however, a sound comedy about making news, a network morning show in this case. The movie is an enjoyable diversion, a clean display of acting and wit that goes down effortlessly. But considering the enthusiastic commitment of the cast and creatives, which includes producer J. J. Abrams, a gentle critique – of network and cable news, the influence of new media on traditional forms – would have given the film more weight.
It is this dynamic between entertainment and substance that causes one of the major conflicts on the set of the fictional DayBreak. When new executive producer Becky (McAdams) fires an anchor (Ty Burrell in a slippery and memorable cameo), she replaces him with Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a legendary journalist who, by his own calculation, has “won every broadcast award on the face of the planet.” He is a man who takes his drinks with Morley Safer and Bob Schieffer, someone who, as he humorously recounts, was shot in the arm in Bosnia and nursed Mother Teresa during a cholera epidemic. This is a real journalist reporting real news.
The very thought of ceding airtime to fluff pieces on Mario Batali’s meatballs and the history of weather vanes offends Mike’s basic ideas of journalistic purity, and he only accepts the job because of contractual obligations. Ford is a grizzled block of potential energy as the acerbic character. Mike stomps his way onto the set of DayBreak, silent and superior, with the fixed snarl of a reporter who approaches his new job in the same way he’d confront an authoritarian dictator about crimes against humanity. The actor doesn’t play it all straight though. He has some of the film’s best lines, which are brimming with pretention, and slips in the briefest hints of satire.
Ford’s co-star, Diane Keaton, meanwhile, is just as fun to watch because she doesn’t hold back. Despite her exasperation, Colleen Peck, DayBreak’s standard bearer, is a glass half-full kind of woman. She injects a wry sense of humor into the office but is positive enough to embrace the mediocre show and wish for its success. Colleen makes the most of what she’s offered, which might be Keaton’s approach, gamely kissing frogs and sharing the ring with sumo wrestlers to boost ratings.
The show’s last place standing among morning programs sets up the film’s other big conflict. Threatened with cancellation, Becky tries whatever harebrained ideas she can to increase viewership. The incessant drive for higher audience numbers, at the expense of critical reporting, is relatable especially in this surreal election season. McAdams shines as the beleaguered Becky, who not only needs to wrangle a petulant Mike but who must also deflect charges against her youth and tenacity. The actress does funny well, and though she isn’t bullish on comedy, she makes the most of small moments, awkwardly stumbling into the office of her love interest and colleague (a sinfully handsome Patrick Wilson) or trying to broker peace between her warring anchors. It’s easy to imagine Becky as the perky shot in the arm that lifts the whole team, but McAdams gives her more depth, and strength, than that. Her character is endearing and optimistic but not naïve, and her struggle to find an identity outside of work is handled soberly.
Prod: J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk
Dir: Roger Michell
Writer: Aline Brosh McKenna
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, Patrick Wilson, John Pankow, Jeff Goldblum, Matt Malloy, Ty Burrell
Time: 107 min
Country: United States