Early-morning TV news shows like “Today” and “Good Morning America” tend to be a random mix of features, interviews, entertainment, and some bursts of actual hard news. Perhaps it’s fitting that “Morning Glory,” a comedy about one such program, should be just as scattered and unfocused, trying to be all things to all people and not doing any of those things particularly well. Like its subject matter, this is a movie to have on in the background while you’re getting ready for work, not one you sit down and savor every minute of.
The savvy, upbeat dynamo called Rachel McAdams plays the lead, Becky Fuller, a 28-year-old broadcast professional who, at the top of the film, is let go from her position as a producer on “Good Morning, New Jersey.” Her dream is to be the executive producer of “Today,” but in the meantime she gets the next-next-next-best thing: executive producer of “Daybreak,” the fourth-place network morning show on the fourth-place network, IBS. (In the category of fictional TV networks, IBS — which usually stands for irritable bowel syndrome — must be among the worst.) Having barely had time to mourn the loss of her New Jersey job and be told by her mother to stop chasing her dreams (?), Becky moves to Manhattan, finds a great apartment without even trying, and starts the new gig.
“Daybreak” is in trouble for a reason. Its lead anchor, Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), is bitter at being stuck in this dead-end job for so many years, with new executive producers quitting or being fired on a regular basis. Her co-host, Paul McVee (Ty Burrell), is a vapid pervert. The network won’t spend any money on the show, and viewers won’t tune in. Becky’s boss, Jerry (Jeff Goldblum), has hired her — someone so young, with no executive-producer experience — as a last-ditch effort to shake things up.
The shaking begins in earnest when Becky gets rid of Paul McVee and replaces him with Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), a venerated TV journalist in the Ted Koppel mode who was fired from anchoring the evening news two years ago but is still under contract with the network. Mike, a serious newsman, has no interest in being co-monkey on a fluffy morning show, of course. But his contract stipulates that he’ll lose the $6 million a year IBS is paying him if he doesn’t take whatever position he’s offered.
This is a marvelous scenario: A grumpy old Harrison Ford is put on TV next to a sunshiny (but inwardly angry) Diane Keaton. You wouldn’t want to watch “Daybreak,” but you’d sure want to watch the movie about it. Disappointingly, the two screen icons don’t get much time together — Keaton is a distant third in the billing, behind McAdams and Ford — and the scenes they do have merely reminded me of Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone in “Anchorman,” only not as funny. (The film also underuses Jeff Goldblum, almost to a criminal degree.)
It’s not clear which story “Morning Glory” is trying to tell. Written by Aline Brosh McKenna (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “27 Dresses”) and directed by Roger Michell (“Notting Hill”), it flirts with a number of formulas, never fully committing to any of them. To use journalism jargon, it buries its lead. Is this the story of Becky Fuller achieving her dreams? Is it about everyone rallying to save “Daybreak” from cancellation? Is it about Becky Fuller and Mike Pomeroy, the young idealist helping the crusty cynic cast off his shell? Is it about a respected but fallen TV newsman finding his career’s second act? Is it about Becky avoiding the curse of the workaholic and finding time for a personal life?
At various points the movie is each of those things, and it’s occasionally rather funny about it. McAdams is a cheery presence, rising above the cliches of the work-obsessed female, or at least making those cliches tolerable. Still, there’s a weird moment when Becky freaks out on her boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) for no reason whatsoever, as far as I can tell, except that the movie had reached the point where the protagonist needs to have a romantic conflict. And while Ford’s grave, gravelly voice is the perfect means for delivering curmudgeonly one-liners, the dialogue he’s been given is seldom as funny as it feels like it ought to be.
And so we have a film that’s agreeable enough, as far as it goes, in the style of a “chick flick” without alienating non-chick viewers. What’s frustrating is that it never really explores any of the good ideas it has, preferring to go the easy route and keep things superficial. Everyone involved here is operating well below his or her skill level.
C+ (1 hr., 42 min.; )