"Morning Glory" is full of beans, and I mean that in the best possible way. It's perky, it's peppy, it tootles along with a grinning gaiety not many movies can manage. The film honors the conventions of workplace comedy without allowing them to sag into cliché. It showcases rising star Rachel McAdams in a career-making performance and flanks her with old pros Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton at the top of their form. It's got a snappy pace, glamorous Manhattan locations, and a gaggle of great characters in roles major and small.
It's formula entertainment, admittedly, but there's real pleasure in seeing the equation worked out so cleverly.
McAdams plays Becky, a plucky, idealistic, highly caffeinated minor-league TV producer hired to save "Daybreak," a floundering national morning news show. Well, to slow its death spiral would be more accurate. Pessimistic programming chief Jeff Goldblum asks only that she let the show expire quietly; his apathetic, last-place network can't keep the newsroom door handles from falling off. There's a package of game shows and syndicated fluff that would fill the time slot just fine.
Becky, having lucked into her dream job, aims to give the show a life-saving makeover. Step one: recruit legendary broadcaster Mike Pomeroy (Ford) out of semi-retirement to man the anchor desk. Unless he accepts the new assignment, he'll lose $6 million remaining on his contract. Ford's gravitas and comedic irritability are in perfect balance here. His expression when this infant uses legal jiujitsu to force him to cohost with "former Miss Arizona" Colleen Peck (Keaton) is sidesplitting.
As in screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna's "The Devil Wears Prada," the clash of wills between the newcomer and the beyond-demanding veteran drives the story.
And as before, a Mr. Perfect boyfriend (newsmagazine producer Patrick Wilson) provides romantic window dressing.
This time, though, the fearful/worshipful young newcomer is in charge, and the hard-as-nails professional fights back with sulfurous sarcasm. Ford's old-school newsman is a fierce and fascinating creation, cranky integrity and entitled ego with a human core. His verbal duels with the overmatched but stubborn McAdams have the snap of a Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn duet. Even scenes where they walk and talk side by side are slyly comic, her perky, shoulder-switching little prance contrasting against Ford's bearlike galumph. The side trips into her love affair with Wilson, where she dithers and gazes calf-eyed at him, don't have the same spark. Aloof and difficult as he is, Ford is much more alive.
As Becky engineers a series of ratings-boosting stunts (the hapless weatherman becomes the star of "Jackass"-style skits), "Morning Glory" lays out predictable lessons about the tug of war between entertainment and news. To its credit, the film admits that the battle for substance was lost some time ago. Director Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") moves things along so briskly that the obvious bits race by; he wrote the book on timing. Michell can take a preposterous moment (would Becky really fly out the door to deal with an emergency in her skivvies?) and transform it with snappy editing. Whenever drift sets in, it's Ford to the rescue, alternately seething and exploding about asinine human-interest stories and vacuous cooking segments. Stomach acid has rarely been so delicious.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186