A smart, ambitious, young network producer tries to negotiate the fine line between news and entertainment, while struggling to balance her career and her love life. Sound familiar?  It should.

Watching the romantic comedy Morning Glory, I was reminded over and over of one of my favorite films from the 1980s. Unfortunately, most often my thought was that the new movie lacked its predecessor’s sharp writing, genuine ethical dilemmas and multidimensional characters.

It’s hard to believe that Broadcast News was released twenty-three years ago. Despite some ill-advised hairdos on Holly Hunter, the movie still holds up remarkably well. The characters are so unique and interesting, the issues so complex, and nearly every line of the dialogue is not just memorable but iconic.

While Morning Glory is a better-than-average bit of entertainment, it just doesn’t fill those very big shoes.

In Morning Glory, the adorable Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, a driven young producer at regional Good Morning, New Jersey. Right away, we know she takes her work oh so seriously — she’s up at 4 a.m., has earned the slavish loyalty of her Garden State colleagues, and is a complete and utter loser where her love life is concerned. Becky dreams of someday landing a plum position with The Today Show. When she is laid off through no fault of her own, she defies her mother’s advice to give up her dream and instead lands a big city job with the self-defined “worst morning show ever,” Daybreak. Becky’s mission?  Revive the dwindling ratings and save the show.

Can she do it?  Of course. Because that’s the kind of movie this is.

McAdams throws herself into the part of Becky, and the audience roots for her as she struggles to save the show. Despite the trappings of a typical romantic comedy, we never doubt Becky’s intelligence, talent and instinct. At her first production meeting, she is bombarded with story ideas, questions, and complaints from her disgruntled, dysfunctional cast and crew. She not only takes control but fires the arrogant foot-fetishist co-host, earning a round of applause from her appreciative new team.

However, this act of bravado puts Becky in a difficult situation. She has to find a new co-host, stat. Fortunately, the network has a former evening news anchor under contract and available. Unfortunately, said anchor would rather be anywhere else, doing anything else than co-hosting a “fluffy” morning show. And that pretty much sets up the conflict for the next 90 minutes.

Rachel McAdams is joined by Harrison Ford as legendary newscaster Mike Pomeroy. He is in rare form, with a cragged face and more bristle than a porcupine. With pretty much every line he growls, he insults Becky, the network, the show, the audience and most of all his co-host Colleen Peck, a former Miss Arizona played hilariously by Diane Keaton.

Ford and Keaton share some of the movie’s funnier moments, such as their mutual refusal to make the first move when McAdams’ Becky tries to introduce them, or their over-the-top on-air sniping. Ironically, their bickering begins to draw an audience and Becky soon adds attention-grabbing stunts, such as strapping the hapless meteorologist into the world’s fastest roller coaster, and booking sumo wrestlers and exotic animals.

The ratings improve, much to the surprise of the surly network executive (an underutilized Jeff Goldblum), but not a surprise to the audience. Colleen and Mike learn to work together. Serious news and talk show entertainment can co-exist after all. Becky mends her workaholic ways and lands handsome magazine-show producer Patrick Wilson. The Today Show comes a-courtin’ but Becky realizes that her heart is at Daybreak. And they all, we presume, live happily ever after.

Morning Glory is formulaic fun. The cast is quite good, with McAdams proving once again that she’s leading lady material. Young, pretty and sometimes a bit of a ditz, she nevertheless makes you believe in Becky’s genuine abilities. She’s supported by fine character portrayals by Ford, Keaton, Goldblum, Wilson, and smaller though solid performances by Ty Burrell, Matt Malloy, and John Pankow. Directed by Roger Michell—best known for another offbeat romantic comedy, Notting Hill—the movie was written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who scripted The Devil Wears Prada.

If you want to enjoy a couple of hours, by all means go see Morning Glory. But if you’d rather treat yourself to one of Hollywood’s most intelligent modern classics, rent Broadcast News.

Like Becky Fuller, Holly Hunter’s Jane Craig is a driven young producer. (Although like Mike Pomeroy, she worships at the altar of serious reporting.) She, too, struggles with ratings and content and network expectations. And she also wonders if she can ever satisfy her work ambition and her desire for a romantic life.

But Jane’s character needs more than gumption to succeed. She is torn apart by questions of ethics, both on the job and off. She falls in love with a handsome empty suit (William Hurt) even though she has no respect for him. Meanwhile, she respects a brilliant coworker (Albert Brooks) but is aghast when she learns that he loves her.

Jane doesn’t get a happy ending like Becky’s. She can’t “have it all,” as Brooks’ character Aaron points out after she rejects him.

Six years from now, I’ll be back here with my wife and two kids. And I’ll see you, and one of my kids will say, “Daddy, who is that?” And I’ll say it’s not nice to point at single fat women.

I realize that Morning Glory and Broadcast News, despite their shared settings and themes, represent two different genres of film. Morning Glory squarely lands in the romantic comedy category: cute, scrappy heroine takes on a seemingly impossible task, mayhem ensues, she saves the day and gets the guy. Broadcast News, while dealing with romance is more of a “dramedy:” sometimes bitingly funny, but just as often piercing and poignant.

But Morning Glory would have benefited from a bit more depth of character, and a resolution that wasn’t quite so predictable and pat. What saves the day for Becky and company? A frittata. Nothing can save the day for Jane. Her issues are too complicated; the questions she raises are unanswerable.

It’s interesting to think about how each movie examines the value of hard-edged reporting at a time when audiences are looking for escapist entertainment. In Broadcast News, we agree with Jane’s standards about the integrity of the news and applaud her when she walks away from a romance with someone who doesn’t live up to them. In Morning Glory, on the other hand, we watch Becky nip away at Mike’s rigid definition of news and succeed only when he finally surrenders to the public’s appetite for early morning kibitzing and cooking.

Too often, television news audiences want sound bites and easy answers. We don’t want to turn off the TV and have to think about what we’ve heard. This was somewhat true in the ’80s and much more so today. (I can only imagine what Jane would say about so-called “reality TV.”)

If Morning Glory is any indication, movie audiences seemed to have evolved (or devolved, perhaps) in much the same way. We want a nice, neat package, where all conflict is resolved in 90 minutes. And we really want a happy ending for our heroine. But personally, I’d rather leave the theater thinking as well as smiling.

I saw Broadcast News twenty-three years ago and I remember every scene, every major character, and dozens of lines from the script word-for-word. I saw Morning Glory last week. It was a very enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. But in the long run, I’m afraid it will prove to be forgettable fun.

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  • drpatallen December 9, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    The husband takes me to these chick flicks because I need some mindless fun after 60 hours of my work week. I saw Morning Glory on its opening weekend and enjoyed it for just the reasons that Alexandra gave in her sweet review. I can’t see Sophie’s Choice every time I go to the movies though I am so grateful for those filmakers and those extraordinary movies as well.