By Steve Persall
Times Film Critic
Morning Glory is a fluffy blend of Broadcast News and That Girl, with emphasis on the latter, dated sitcom. The movie depicts the supposedly cutthroat world of morning television with the sharpness of a butter knife. Only a spunky cast prevents the film from being as tedious as a test pattern.
Rachel McAdams' undeniable charm is a fine fit for Becky Fuller, a television producer at a New Jersey affiliate who is bubbly even at 4:30 a.m., when her shift begins. The hours and cell phone interruptions drastically hamper her personal life, but she's devoted to duty. Even when she's laid off, the station manager's reference letter deems her the most promising producer he ever fired.
After relentless resume faxes and phone calls, Becky lands a job with a fourth-place network's morning show Daybreak, with ratings so low they barely register. Staff morale is even lower, with a diva and a dirtbag as co-anchors and an executive (Jeff Goldblum) itching to pull the plug. Becky has her work cut out for her, but gosh darn it, she'll do it.
The screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna closely hews to the template of her earlier working-girl saga, The Devil Wears Prada: plucky woman negotiating her way through a concrete jungle with a gossipy sidekick (John Pankow) and romantic interest (Patrick Wilson) urging her on. There's even another plum role for a Hollywood legend as an insufferable alpha dog, this time Harrison Ford rather than Meryl Streep.
Ford plays Mike Pomeroy, a grizzled anchorman who has rubbed elbows with presidents and despots, and even laid a cold compress on Mother Teresa's forehead. He's much too important to accept a role as Daybreak's co-anchor (replacing the dirtbag), as he'll gladly bark to anyone listening. We're never told what exiled Mike from the airwaves, but a contract loophole makes Daybreak an offer he absolutely can't refuse.
In the prickly relationship between Becky and Mike, Morning Glory finds its snarky rhythm and occasionally soars. He's an old-school journalist railing against the dumbing-down of network news while she knows it's the only way her career can survive. Ford lowers his voice to its deepest growl ever to make Mike an imposing bully — "You've got this repellent moxie" is a juicy line — and each confrontation steels Becky's spine a bit more.
Ford's spiky portrayal carries over to the Daybreak set, where Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton spoofing Diane Sawyer) sees Mike as a threat to her stardom. McKenna's script doesn't go far enough with this relationship; only one of their barbed exchanges makes it on air, which is the one thing that would set Daybreak apart from its happy-talk competitors.
Why send a silly weatherman (Matt Malloy) to do stomach-challenging stunts when co-anchors might claw each other's eyes at any moment? And what would that say about viewers tuning in? Morning Glory skips those questions, and the chance to be a Broadcast News for a new generation. It's enough to make Holly Hunter unplug her telephone and cry.