Rachel McAdams in a scene from "Morning Glory." (AP Photo / Paramount Pictures…)
In "Morning Glory," Rachel McAdams gives the kind of performance we go to the movies for. The rest of the film isn't always up to her level, but it does provide genial entertainment until it runs out of steam.
A "Broadcast News"-type saga of life behind the camera on a struggling national morning news show based in Manhattan, "Morning Glory" starts beautifully and, though it doesn't quite go the distance, it certainly has the credentials to do so.
The film's script is by Aline Brosh McKenna, who charted a similar young-woman-on-the-rise trajectory in "The Devil Wears Prada." The director is the under-appreciated Roger Michell, responsible for "Notting Hill," "Venus" and the best of the Jane Austen films, 1995's "Persuasion." And McAdams' costars, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, are not in need of further introduction.
Though the film's advertising gives the impression that McAdams is one among equals, the reality is that this is her show. An actress who's brought the great gift of coming completely alive on screen to films like "The Notebook," "Wedding Crashers" and "The Time Traveler's Wife," she's never carried an entire film as completely and as easily as she does here.
McAdams plays Becky Fuller, a young woman of endless and effortless energy, liveliness and passion. Nothing but nothing gets her down for long, and her funny, endearing spirit is a breath of tonic air. While go-getter characters can be an irritant if not handled properly, McAdams has such a great take on Fuller that she is all but irresistible.
Fuller's great passion in life is being a morning news producer, a job that pretty much eats her alive. She is up at 1:30 a.m. to get to the station for "Good Morning, New Jersey," a situation she hopes will lead to her lifelong dream of working for "Today."
Instead of moving up, however, the workaholic Fuller is fired for budgetary reasons, but she then catches the eye of Jerry Barnes (a swell Jeff Goldblum), who runs a network called IBS. He is looking for an executive producer for "Daybreak," a morning show that is so perennially in last place that other networks mock it unmercifully. After telling Barnes that "'Daybreak'" needs what I need, someone to believe in them," she gets the job.
Though we soon see that Fuller is quite good at what she does, "Daybreak," which has had 14 executive producers in 11 years, turns out to be more of a challenge than even she anticipates.
The mainstay of the show is Colleen Peck, expertly played by Keaton. In classic morning show form, she is game for anything (at one point we see her wearing a fat suit and facing a sumo wrestler), but she is tired of being stuck in the cellar, of having to "pull the train up the hill with my teeth." Her advice to her new young boss: "Enjoy the pain, Gidget."
Adding to her problems, Fuller has to replace Peck's male co-host sooner than she anticipates. Then she gets a brainstorm. IBS has a world-class anchor under contract, the winner of 16 Emmys, eight Peabodys and a Pulitzer. That's right, the legendary Mike Pomeroy, a man Fuller reveres, is in the house.
Occasionally mistaken for Dan Rather, the egotistical Pomeroy turns out to be a real piece of work. Yes, he's won a ton of awards, but, as played with fine Mr. Cranky conviction by Ford, he's allowed that to go to his head. Not shy about reminding people that he "pulled Colin Powell from a burning jeep and put a cool washcloth on Mother Teresa's forehead during a cholera epidemic," Pomeroy has real contempt for morning news and is not afraid to show it.
So rather than be part of the team, Pomeroy makes life impossible for everybody, referring to Peck as "Miss Pacoima," rejecting typical morning news assignments and even refusing to say the word "fluffy" on the air.
Naturally, this makes Fuller crazy. And it also hurts a possible romance with Adam Bennett, a hunky newsmagazine producer played by Patrick Wilson (formerly of "Little Children" and now doing the best he can in the male version of the girlfriend role).
This is certainly an excellent setup, and it's aided by how accurate "Morning Glory" feels to the nuts and bolts realities of the a.m. TV world. But having gotten this far, the film proceeds to stumble and lose its way, giving itself up to formulaic plot elements that are not as engaging as the stuff that's come before.
McAdams' performance is worth the price of admission, but a resolution as satisfying as her work is not to be found.