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Behold! A comedy that doesn’t insult me as a woman and a human being!

November 28, 2010

I have very low standards for romantic comedies. Make me laugh; don’t insult my gender too egregiously; have a few lines that I can quote and maybe a lovable British comedian or two thrown in, and I’m a happy camper. This is why the last romantic comedy that I saw and love unreservedly is Forgetting Sarah Marshall, for reasons I’ll try and elucidate either later in this post or in a later post. But on Saturday I saw a comedy that completely blew me away, not just in terms of general hilarity and charm, but also in the way that every time I expected it to do something, it did something different. That movie? Morning Glory. Now, critics have been mixed on this movie; they seem to think that it is beneath the inhumanly charming Rachel McAdams, that it’s got a trite premise, that it’s a generally underwritten film with few surprises. This tells me more about critics, and about what kinds of movies critics are seeing, than it does about Morning Glory. Because, here’s the deal: my pals and I (MoHos all, voracious consumers and critics of all kinds of culture, high and low) got out of this movie and realized we had never seen something like this before.

(Spoilers below the cut)

Morning Glory tells the story of Becky Fuller (McAdams), a 28-year old workaholic, striving away at a morning news program in New Jersey where the weatherman does awful meteorological raps and the lady anchor has to be woken up on-air. After she’s fired to make room for a Columbia grad named Chip—one of the more devastating scenes in the film—she lands a job at the fictional “IBS” network, as the executive producer of Daybreak. Daybreak is the fourth-worst performing morning show on air, consistently behind Today and Good Morning America and whatever that other one is. She’s handed a show with no budget, two anchors who hate one another (Diane Keaton and, briefly, Phil Dunphy as a foot fetishist), and a boss who has no confidence in her ability to shake up the ailing program. She brings in veteran reporter Mike Pomeroy in an effort to raise the standards of the show, and Pomeroy, played with glowering efficiency by Harrison Ford, turns out to be the world’s worst person. Along the way she meets Adam Bennett (Patrick Wilson), another producer at the network with an intimidatingly fancy background and has to figure out how to make the relationship work around her own insecurities. This is all fairly standard romcom fare so far.

Now, from the previews, I’d expected her to have issues with Pomeroy, but to eventually triumph and tame him; I expected her to have difficulties with her relationship with Adam because she’s a workaholic, but that they would eventually connect; and I expected her to Save The Show because it is practically a requirement of this kind of story that the show be saved. But Morning Glory turned out to be an entirely different kind of love story than the one I expected. I expected it to be a story about a girl learning that work isn’t everything; so often in these movies the choice is between a dude and a job and so often it is the dude that wins out. Morning Glory is a love story between a girl and her job.

For me, it’s all because of Becky Fuller. Becky wants to work in television news because it’s all she’s ever wanted, and the movie never treats her like a freak for wanting it. So often in these movies the heroine’s career is either secondary to her life or a burden—think the Julie portion of Julie and Julia, or the Sex and the City paradisical New York where Louboutins grow on trees and writing is more glamorous than anything else in the world. Becky Fuller is never asked to make the choice between a man and a job. She’s never asked to change the way she dresses to fit in or act differently or do anything else than turn off her phone once in a while to have sex with her hot boyfriend. And, to this movie’s credit, she never asks it of herself, either. There are moments of doubt, yes—especially when she realizes that Mike Pomeroy is a douchebag and is unlikely to change just because they had one good story together—but she has this awesome sense of self that is so refreshing to see on screen. And when Pomeroy eventually does change, it’s cause he realizes that he is a monumental asshole and that she is going to take a more lucrative offer because he couldn’t bother to show her respect. It’s not because he realizes that she’s super beautiful or that she’s the love of his life—he realizes that she’s good at her job; that he is actually happy to be a part of this organization he had disdain for when he joined it; and that it would be a loss to the program if she left.

And sure, she’s a spaz. Her ambition and anxiety manifest themselves in monumental acts of clumsiness, and we especially enjoyed her complete inability to manage any and all doors. But she’s never made to fall elaborately down a flight of stairs or humiliate herself the way so many intelligent women are on television and in movies, as though the price of intelligence and some beauty is a complete lack of motor control. She also (and this is my personal pet hobbyhorse here) eats totally healthily in the movie. In so many romantic comedies they make a big effort to talk about how much the insanely skinny leading actress eats—I’m looking right at you, Ashley Judd in that movie where she did nothing but eat and make out with Hugh Jackman—but it makes TOTAL SENSE for this girl to be running around in her INSANE lifestyle drinking tea and eating salads. That’s a rant for another day.

Now, I know that this perfect storm of competence and intelligence is coming off as sounding pious and awful and deeply un-funny, but McAdams is seriously so good in this movie—when she’s nervous she talks too much and then forgets to use her words, resorting to elaborate and increasingly-incomprehensible pantomime to communicate. She is a bundle of energy, always propelling herself forward and dragging her reluctant and admiring coworkers with her. And when she hurts or doubts herself you see real doubt, and not the awful, insulting choices so many movies ask you to believe in. “I’m a crazy successful, beautiful woman forced to choose between two dudes who adore me! WHAT TO DO! I’m going to go eat my feelings because I’m a lady and that’s what ladies do.” Becky is believable, she’s adorable, and I rooted for her from beginning to end. So, yes. Morning Glory was great, and I hope that everyone goes to see it so that it has good box office numbers, so that more smart, fun, lady-comedies about ladies doing fun things and occasionally boning guys who aren’t douchebags can get made.

P.S. This movie also passed the Bechdel Test, which was AWESOME. I think the last movie I watched that passed it was, believe it or not, Alien Vs. Predator, because Sanaa Lathan and the other lady explorer had a conversation about how she was glad that Sanaa’s character stayed to fight Aliens instead of leaving. It was all of five seconds, but it totes counted. But Morning Glory was chock full of lady-on-lady conversations! Ladies talked to one another about ALL KINDS OF THINGS and only once (I think) was it about a dude.


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