Morning Glory is as fresh as new laundry, or Rachel McAdams, but there's something wrong with it, too, and what's wrong is in the performances.
Roger Michell directs it as though it were an uproarious comedy, but the laughs are light, and the story's real appeal lies in its behind-the-scenes look at the manners and politics of morning television. It's a portrait of a young woman and her world, but both are undercut by one-note, heavy-handed comic acting.
It's odd. Michell directed Notting Hill, which was a delight, and Changing Lanes (with Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck), one of the most underrated films of the past decade. He knows how to control tone and he knows actors.
Yet, he allowed or encouraged Harrison Ford to act as though mumbling through a coma. And he allowed or encouraged McAdams in the opposite extreme, to play virtually every scene bouncing off walls and talking non-stop.
This is too bad because there's more than a kernel of truth to what McAdams does here, even if it's obscured by mannerism and overplaying.
McAdams, as Becky, is an ambitious career monster but in the nicest way (there are such people): likable, engaging and basically nice, but so focused on external achievement that the rest of life has no meaning for her. McAdams has fire in her eyes. She makes Becky's ambition, intelligence and drive easy to believe.
Likewise, her ruthlessness. A low-level TV operative who becomes the executive producer of a struggling morning show, Becky fires a worthless anchorman 20 minutes into her first day on the job. We look at McAdams and know: Yes, she would do that.
But the motor-mouthed stuff, the super-energized playing, the constant nervous energy — that seems more like an actress's first draft at a character, or some nutty attempt to be likable, or some strenuous response to the pressures of comedy. Whatever it was, Michell should have rescued her.
That this problem in Morning Glory is systemic is apparent from an early scene, in which Becky meets the show's longtime anchor woman (Diane Keaton). Keaton flails and rails, trying to drive home non-existent laughs. But, ultimately, Keaton takes control of her performance, holds back and locates her character in a quieter and more real place. Keaton is important in Morning Glory: She's the one principal player who completely knows what she's doing.
The movie's big relationship is between McAdams and Ford, a former network anchor forced to do the morning show because of a clause in his contract. And so he does it, talking in a monotone and never taking the scowl off his face. The anchorman wears the same scowl off camera, as well. Perhaps, Ford should be congratulated for finally achieving something he has been working toward for years: a performance in which he doesn't smile once.
And yet ... the whole atmosphere of Morning Glory is rather pleasant. It's interesting to lurk behind the scenes of a morning show, to get an idea (albeit an exaggerated one) of what an executive producer does and how segments come about; to see the jockeying for interviews and the planning of stories, and the glamour and the harshness of working in that environment.